18th March 2023 – (Hong Kong) New World Development Co., a prominent Hong Kong property developer, has taken a significant step towards gender diversity by adding three women to its board of directors in the fourth quarter. This move has doubled the number of women in its highest level of governance and achieved the most substantial gain in gender diversity among the city’s blue-chip companies.
With 17 members on its board, including seven from the Cheng family, which controls New World and jewelry conglomerate Chow Tai Fook, New World has one of the largest boards among Hong Kong’s listed companies. The firm’s gender balance is also commendable, with 35 percent of seats held by women, which is more than double the average for the city’s listed company boardrooms.
Jenny Chiu, an 18-year veteran of the company and now New World’s senior director for human resources, emphasises that diversity and inclusion are not just about gender but also about getting the right mix of experience and strength in the boardroom. In an interview on 8th March, she stated that “We’re not just adding female board members for the sake of it.” This move demonstrates New World’s commitment to fostering a diverse and inclusive workplace culture.
The Hang Seng Index shows that nearly 20 percent of directors are women at companies in the region, surpassing the 15 percent in Nikkei 225 companies, but still falling below the major indexes in Australia, the US, or Europe, where the proportion is closer to one-third. However, Hong Kong is pushing local firms to improve on measures of gender diversity. A new rule, which took effect in July, requires companies to have at least one female director or, if the board is entirely composed of women, at least one man would have to be added. This change is expected to create over 1,300 new board seats for women.
As an HR executive, Chiu was able to offer a perspective on the workforce and productivity. Last summer, amidst Hong Kong’s worst-yet Covid wave, she pushed New World to adopt a 4.5-day working week to encourage work-life balance and boost morale. This trial program could be repeated in the coming summer. Chiu and other relatively new female board members are among the ten who are not related to Henry Cheng, the group’s patriarch. Putting an HR executive on the board in a family-owned enterprise is a signal that governance works best when it taps talent from different fields and beyond the controlling house, Chiu said.
According to data compiled by Bloomberg, women held six more seats on the boards of companies in the Hang Seng Index in the fourth quarter than in the previous three-month period. The average number of female directors rose to 2 from 1.9, out of an average board size of 11.1. The percentage of female directorships increased to 17.9 percent from 17.3 percent. This is above the 14.7 percent of the Nikkei 225 in Asia and below the 36 percent of women on boards of the S&P/ASX 200 in Australia, 32.3 percent of the S&P 500 in the US, and 39 percent of the Stoxx 600 in Europe.
Six Hang Seng companies increased the number of women on their boards; the top companies by market capitalization were Hang Seng Bank Ltd., Li Ning Co., and Chow Tai Fook Jewellery Group Ltd. However, two companies reduced the number of female directors: China Life Insurance Co. and Longfor Group Holdings Ltd. Hang Seng Bank Ltd. currently has the highest percentage of women on its board.