Being a Responsible Leader is a Critical Part of our Business Strategy
China, Hong Kong SAR
In the Photo: Laura Cha, CEO of the Hong Kong Stock Exchange
The CEO of the Hong Kong Stock Exchange (HKEX) Laura Cha explains how the responsibility of the company goes beyond their role as an exchange group and the ways being a WEPs signatory will contribute to the organization’s gender equality ambitions.
Why did you decide to sign-up for the WEPs?
At Hong Kong Stock Exchange, (HKEX) we understand that our responsibilities go beyond our role as an exchange group. We have a responsibility to our community. Promoting ‘good’ business and diversity is a part of that.
Diversity is a core corporate value for us, along with integrity, excellence, collaboration and engagement. By signing the WEPs, we are making an even deeper public commitment to the importance of diversity and gender equality, which we see as fundamental principles of good governance and good business.
How much priority was put on signing the WEPs and what was the role of leaders?
Promoting diversity and inclusion is a journey that requires a cultural and mental shift in any organization. Signing the WEPs was endorsed by the board of HKEX, and the HKEX management team have fully embraced them. It is also something that our staff feel passionate about.
It is essential in both our role as a public company and in our capacity as a regulator of listed companies that we are flag-bearers for diversity. We hope that over time our commitment to diversity will become further embedded in our culture and our community.
What has changed since signing the WEPs?
In many ways there was no obvious catalyst for signing the WEPs because culturally, we were already on our own journey to promote gender equality within our business and across our marketplace.
We already had a very strong group of women leaders. More than 40 per cent of our vice presidents and senior vice presidents are women and 38 per cent of our management committee members are women, up from 17 per cent one year ago. Our heads of listing and clearing, general counsel and chief financial officer are all women. And of course, I am privileged to be the first ever woman to chair the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. I would like to think we practice what we preach!
Although we have made good progress, we still have a lot of work to do. And the WEPs will certainly help us in framing our future agenda. Women are still under-represented on boards and in the workplace and prejudice still exists. In Hong Kong, the obstacles to true gender equality are not as pronounced as in some societies. But there is unconscious bias everywhere and that perhaps is our greatest long-term challenge.
Making a commitment to diversity and supporting the principles of equality do not automatically translate into changes in the unconscious decisions we make each day. Opportunity comes in our ability to keep working at it, talking about it, and educating each other to overcome unconscious bias.
Has your organization identified anything else you need to do as a result of signing the WEPs?
HKEX has a unique role in Asia; we are a public company, a regulator and the region’s largest stock exchange group. As a business, market operator and regulator, we know that this means we have immense influence and responsibility.
As a regulator of listed companies in Hong Kong, last year we revised our rules on diversity policies for boards to focus on employee gender ratios. This was a major milestone in our promotion of diversity and equality.
We are vocal and passionate advocates about improving the diversity of our workforce and encouraging employees to become leaders based on talent and not gender, race, religion or background. We work with a number of different organizations to promote gender equality, from building the talent pipeline for professional women to hosting annual gender equality summits. We were also proud to partner with some important local NGOs to promote financial literacy among migrant domestic helpers, most of whom are women.
Over the coming years we will continue to focus on board diversity as part of our external advocacy on diversity. Internally, we will extend our unconscious bias training to wider groups within HKEX. In collaboration with our community partners, we have committed to establish a scholarship programme to support girls in technology and will continue to enhance financial literacy throughout our communities, not only for women but also for ethnic minorities and others. We also plan to benchmark our existing policies with other companies and use that to consider enhancements.
How do you think being a WEPs signatory will contribute to your organization’s gender equality ambitions?
Our role in the community and our commitment to being a responsible leader is a critical part of our business strategy and our future. The WEPs serve as an excellent reminder and communications tool for us, as well as a record of success as we continue our work to further gender equality and women’s empowerment.
By signing the WEPs, we are being clear on what our goals are and how we plan to achieve them. It also puts us in good company. All of the signatories have further work to do, but we are united in our commitment to make our companies, markets and communities more equitable.