Women: it’s your choice to lead

I had the privilege of being on the panel of the recent Women of Our Time conference organised by the South China Morning Post. The conference shone a spotlight on the barriers that women still face in securing leadership roles in business and society – yet it also showcased several outstanding women leaders who have overcome these barriers and risen to the top.

As Egon Zehnder’s Board Diversity survey shows, women are still a small minority in Hong Kong’s corner offices and boardrooms. They hold just 10 per cent of executive roles in the territory’s major companies, and 11 per cent of board seats.

Demand for women leaders has never been greater. Almost without exception, the companies with whom I speak are seeking to hire more female directors and executives, while the value of gender diversity on boards and leadership teams is well known.

There are just not enough women with CEO or executive experience, which results in the same few women directors sitting on multiple boards. The message is clear: if you aim high, invest in your career and build your capabilities, you will find opportunities to lead. However, as several speakers at the conference emphasised, seeking to lead is a deliberate choice – and entails sacrifice.

True leaders forge their own paths. However, a lack of role models and (often) biased advice to continue on traditional career tracks results in fewer women aiming for the C-suite.

Closing the gender gap in the corner office will take deliberate career self-management, support from enlightened senior executives, and a willingness to push boundaries – a quality on display in abundance at the conference.

This article is republished with kind permission of the South China Morning Post where Catherine Zhu is a regular contributor.

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