Commemorating the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day, HSBC played host to more than 80 women in London on 8 March at an event entitled ‘The Shape of Things to Come’, with video links to similar events in Hong Kong and New York.
The main theme was looking out 50 years into the future to imagine what the business world would look like in terms of gender composition. Five workshops discussed what steps could be taken today to increase the proportion of women in future boardrooms. The workshops covered areas such as:
- Education and development.
- Home and health.
- Community and connections.
- Environment and climate.
Head of HSBC Global Research, Bronwyn Curtis, who was awarded an OBE for services to business economics, made the point that it was not just about getting more women onto the board but making it possible for women to reach their full potential within an organisation, instead of knocking up against a glass ceiling or being pushed off a glass cliff.
Over 250 participants across the three locations also completed a survey looking at how to increase women’s role in business: 92 of the respondents were based in the US, 87 in Asia and the remaining 79 in Europe. Ninety-two percent of the respondents were female. The survey illustrated some interesting regional differences.
Question 1: In the future, who do you believe should be most responsible for encouraging young women to play a role in business?
Just over half (51%) of the responses to that question globally said that it’s the business world itself which is responsible for encouraging young women to go into business, with the education system taking second place with 25% of the vote.
Interestingly, the US and UK responses ranked parents, the government and media in third, fourth and fifth place respectively, whereas Hong Kong said it was government, media and then parents in last place.
Parents get 15% of the vote in the UK, versus only 3% of the vote in Hong Kong and the US 26%.
Anita Fung, head of global banking and markets, Asia-Pacific at HSBC, who joined the discussion via video link from Hong Kong, remarked that a possible reason why only 3% from Hong Kong thought parents should play a major role in encouraging young women to go into business is that Hong Kong parents are very open to personal choice. “I think they believe that their daughters should be free to do what they want and take up what interests them,” she said.
Question 2: Which of the following subject areas do you think would be most helpful for women aspiring to chief executive officer (CEO) level to study in the future, in order to help them progress to the top?
Forty-six percent of respondents globally said the answer was business and finance, but 41% said that they didn’t believe that the subject a woman studied would affect her chances of becoming a CEO. Eight percent of the vote went to languages, arts and humanities, with 3% to technology and the sciences and finally 2% to mathematics.
Curtis highlighted that practical experience is also desirable, as headhunters usually look for substantial experience in running a business, for example dealing with risk and understanding products and the marketplace.
Question 3: Which of the following do you think most needs to change in learning and development to help women reach CEO level?
The results look differently by geography – the US and UK said that their top answer was more exposure to a broader range of career opportunities in business, with 43% versus 47% of their local responses respectively. Hong Kong respondents had their top answer as needing more training on ‘soft skills’ such as negotiation, assertiveness, influencing and communication skills with 40% of their local vote. That response only got 30% of the US vote and even less – 16% – in the UK.
Question 4: How do you think childcare responsibilities will be split in 50 years time?
The survey revealed that 60% of the respondents globally think that childcare will be split 50/50 between men and women in 50 years time. The regional variation is significant: 70% believe this in Asia, 58% in the US and 52% in the UK.
Thirty-seven percent of respondents still think that women will have the primary responsibility, and only 3% think that men will be running the show with the kids.
It’s worth noting that the 3% came from the US and Hong Kong respondents – no one in the UK thinks that men will have that primary responsibility, even 50 years from now.
Irene Dorner, president and CEO of HSBC Bank USA, who joined the discussion from New York, was encouraged by the fact that a majority thought that the childcare responsibility would equally split, but added that this would mean a significant cultural shift within the business environment.
Question 5: Do you think that flexible working will actually be practised by anyone aiming to be CEO in 50 years time?
In Hong Kong 49% of the local respondents said ‘yes, both men and women will practise flexible working’, with 29% saying’ no, it won’t be practised by anyone wanting to become CEO’.
The UK and US voted no as their top response. It will come as no great surprise that globally 20% answered ‘yes it will be practiced but mostly by women’, but only 1% said yes to mostly by men. This could be due to cultural attitudes and whether or not the policies and framework will be there for both men and women to work more flexible schedules, and clearly those shifts may be moving at different speeds in different locations.
Question 6: Do you believe that having more women in charge of big business would help achieve the environmental and sustainability goals in your country?
In Hong Kong the ‘yes’ was 36% of the vote, whereas in the UK 51% said yes and in the US it went up to 59%. Globally 31% of the vote in the number two spot was that people just didn’t know.
Dorner commented: “We don’t have enough women in the boardroom to really know whether they would have a positive effect on long-term sustainability. But I do believe that women are more accepting of diverse views.”
Question 7: What is the biggest influence women will have in the future on the environment and climate change?
Forty-two percent globally said they don’t think women will have a particular influence that differs to men. Underneath that each location ranked their next responses differently. Twenty-two percent in the US said women will champion environmentally-friendly purchases and initiatives at work, whereas Hong Kong said 21% of women will make changes at home to encourage recycling and sustainable behaviour, and in the UK 21% said women will support positive action on the climate change agenda.
Question 8: As technology and virtual working grows, how do you see women of the future continuing to connect?
Seventy percent globally think that networking will be split 50/50 face-to-face versus virtual. Only 14% think networking will be done primarily virtually.
Question 9: What influence do you think the future female CEO will have on the enhanced integration of businesses into their local community?
Over half (56%) globally think that she will champion better integration with the local community. Only 2% think that she will decrease that focus on integrating.
Although Curtis believes the findings are somewhat optimistic, she thinks that women are more engaged with the local community as a marketplace and as a result will be better placed to promote integration.
Question 10: What do you believe will be most effective in encouraging more women to get into science and technology roles over the next 50 years?
Hong Kong’s top vote was for more female role models working in these fields, with 43% of the local vote, followed by greater financial support or incentives to study or work in science or technology with 19% of the local vote. The US and UK both voted for better promotion of those fields at the high school/secondary school level as their top choice, followed by getting more female role models working in those fields.
Question 11: What role will technology play in how the future CEO manages her life?
Sixty-four percent of the respondents globally said that we will still be using multiple devices to manage our work and personal lives, while 27% thought that everyone would finally be down to just one.
“The thought of only having only one device is a bit daunting because I know I would break or lose it,” joked Dorner. “I think a chip under my skin would be a better solution.”
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