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Leadership schemes for women still on hold
Rick Gangwani
update on Saturday, May 7, 2011
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Numerous studies have documented the vast under-representation of women in senior management. But despite the disparity, many Hong Kong companies still lack specific programmes to address the issue.

According to a recent survey by Mercer, 46 per cent of firms sampled in Hong Kong have no targeted development initiatives for women leaders. While the precise reasons for this have yet to be identified, Mercer's head of talent management consulting, Brenda Wilson, says it may just be a matter of conflict avoidance.

"Organisations could be worried about creating a perception of inequity if they focus on just one segment of the [working] population," she explains.

Though a valid concern, Wilson goes on to note that such an argument could also be seen as contradictory.

"Organisations [segment their workforce] all the time, be it through identifying high potentials or by designating critical skills, which can sometimes be centred on male-dominated roles such as engineering or sales," she says.

While the exact reasons for the widespread inaction remain in question, the reasons for implementing women leadership programmes are becoming increasingly difficult to ignore.

The equity argument has long been the key motivator, particularly in Hong Kong where women make up the majority of the workforce.

Ultimately, however, the financial rationale and the overall effect of gender diversity may be what will bring about real change.

A 2008 United States and European study by McKinsey and Company found that organisations with a higher number of senior-ranking women consistently recorded better financial results.

Another study by the European Commission found that 58 per cent of companies with diversity programmes reported higher productivity as a result of improved employee motivation and efficiency.

Given the lack of movement on the issue, firms that choose to adopt targeted programmes could also develop a short-term edge over rivals, Wilson explains.

"I'm beginning to see a lot more interest in women's leadership development and diversity from major organisations in Asia Pacific," she says. "Opportunities exist for companies to create a competitive advantage by harnessing key segments of their workforce."

For firms looking to implement women-oriented initiatives, Wilson suggests focusing on flexible work arrangements, mentoring, coaching and diverse recruiting.  

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