Chief Executive Carrie Lam
There are numerous examples of prominent female leaders in our private sector. And their leadership has blazed a trail for women.
I believe that access to education is critical to enabling women to participate fully in all areas of our society. In this, much has been achieved in Hong Kong over the past 20 years. In 1921, the University of Hong Kong admitted its first female student. In the years since, we have achieved gender equality in education, and our female students are excelling academically.
Females now represent nearly 55% of the students enrolled in programmes funded by our University Grants Committee in the 2016-17 academic year. That’s up 6% over 1996-97 totals.
In some disciplines traditionally perceived to be male dominated, the percentage of female students has also increased considerably. The percentage of female students studying medicine, for example, has soared over these past two decades – rising from some 37% 20 years ago to more than 51% last year. The percentage of female students majoring in engineering and technology has also more than doubled over the last 20 years – from just over 14% to 29.5% last academic year.
In the workplace, women in Hong Kong enjoy equal employment opportunities and are protected under the same labour legislation as men. The female labour force participation rate has increased from some 45% in 1996 to nearly 51% in 2016. But this is an area that this government will work harder at, because I noticed that even at 51% female labour participation rate, there is room for doing better, especially when Hong Kong is facing a major labour shortage in time to come.
In the professional field, women last year made up 48% of Hong Kong’s solicitors and 50% of our public accountants, compared to 32% and 33% respectively 20 years ago.
Over that same period, women’s share of managerial positions has gone from about 20% to 33%. In short, women today take up one in every three Hong Kong managerial positions.
At the top management level, the news is less encouraging, I’m afraid. About 12% of the board directors of Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index companies are women. Still, that compares favourably with Singapore at under 10%, Japan at 3.4%, and South Korea at just over 4%.
Hong Kong, of course, must – and will – do better in this regard. But it will demand your concerted efforts to create a more enabling corporate environment in Hong Kong.
Turning to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government, the news is mixed. We have only two female Principal Officials in the new-term Government – myself and the Secretary for Food & Health Prof Sophia Chan. I did admit openly that I failed miserably in getting more female leaders on to my team and there is a long story to tell you why I failed. That said, 10 of the 19 Permanent Secretaries – the highest rank in our civil service – are women.
And, as of 2016, more than one-third, 35.7% to be exact, of our senior civil service colleagues, at the what we call the directorate grade level, are women. That, I should add, is a promising leap from just over 15% 20 years ago.
In social and political participation, last year the number of female registered electors was up more than 44% over 1998, while the corresponding increase in male registered electors was less than 27%.
For Government-appointed advisory and statutory board and committee members, some 32% of the non-official members are now women, up from about 17% in 1996. And we are working towards a benchmark of 35%.
Government has an important role to play in encouraging the advancement of women. We are doing so through policy-making, public engagement and international collaboration.
Allow me now to give you a bit of background. The protection of women’s rights in Hong Kong is enshrined in the Basic Law, our constitutional document. Article 25 of the Basic Law stipulates that all Hong Kong residents are equal before the law. Local legislation is also in place to protect women against domestic violence, sexual discrimination and other inequities.
The Sex Discrimination Ordinance, enacted in 1996, makes discrimination unlawful on the grounds of sex, marital status or pregnancy, and sexual harassment. It also provided for the establishment of the Equal Opportunities Commission, created to eliminate discrimination and promote equality of opportunity between women and men.
In 2015, the Sex Discrimination Ordinance was amended to protect service providers from sexual harassment by their customers. Protection was extended to service industries with a large number of female practitioners, including nurses, waitresses, flight attendants and salespersons.
Hong Kong is no less committed to safeguarding women’s rights in line with international principles. The United Nations Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women was extended to Hong Kong in 1996. Hong Kong submits regular reports to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women as part of China’s periodic reports.
In response to the committee’s recommendations, we established the Women’s Commission in 2001. It develops long-term strategies, advises the Government and champions women’s causes in Hong Kong. It also maintains close ties with more than 300 local women’s groups and relevant service agencies, as well as international organisations.
With the commission’s advice, gender mainstreaming was introduced to the Government in 2002.
Since 2002, the Government has applied a Gender Mainstreaming Checklist to various policy and programme areas. Today, all government bureaus and departments must apply gender mainstreaming in formulating major government policies and initiatives.
To raise awareness of gender-related issues in the business community, the Government set up a Gender Focal Point network among listed companies here last December. Over 160 listed companies are using Gender Focal Points. In addition, the Women’s Commission has organised a variety of activities to enhance corporate understanding of gender issues and create an environment in which female colleagues can excel.
The commission also established the Capacity Building Mileage Programme to help women. The programme is used in more than 80 women’s groups and NGOs across Hong Kong. To date, more than 94,000 participants have enrolled.
A Funding Scheme for Women’s Development was launched by the commission in 2012. It provides funds for women’s groups and NGOs, helping them organise programmes and activities conducive to women’s development. The funding scheme’s theme, “Women’s Employment”, complements the Government’s work in motivating more women to join the labour force. To date, it has funded more than 90 organisations and over 240 projects.
As a working mother, I firmly believe that the Government should help women enter, or remain, in the workforce, creating conditions that allow them to maintain a work-life balance. To that end, the Government is enhancing childcare and elderly services support, strengthening training and employment services and promoting family-friendly employment practices.
For childcare services, we provide about 7,000 places at some 250 subsidised childcare centres and kindergarten and childcare centres. And we are continually enhancing these services. We have, for example, given additional funding to allow existing facilities to extend their service hours. We are now conducting a study on the long-term development of our childcare services. In this school year, we have introduced free quality kindergarten education for all kids in Hong Kong. For many of these kindergartens, we are encouraging them to provide extended, whole-day service so as to relieve women who need to go out to work.
The Government is also strengthening elderly care services, while providing support for those who care for elderly persons. That includes women who care for elderly persons at home.
In support of female employment, the Employees Retraining Board has offered more than 700 training courses straddling 28 industries and generic skills. About 82% of the trainees in board courses today are women. The board has also launched schemes allowing trainees to attend courses according to their own schedules.
In the workplace, a family-friendly environment is essential in creating equal opportunities for men and women. To that end, the Government has legislated numerous employment benefits, including rest days, maternity leave and paternity leave.
The biennial Family-Friendly Employers Award Scheme has become a key initiative in engaging the business sector’s buy-in. Last year, more than 2,700 companies and organisations participated in the award programme.
I assure you, I will work with Hong Kong business and the Hong Kong community to expedite and expand opportunities for women, on both the private and public sectors.
Our continuing prosperity is predicated on full and equal opportunity, at the highest levels – at all levels – for both men and women.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam gave these remarks at the WomenCorporateDirectors 2017 ASPAC Institute conference.