Link is a real estate investment trust based in Hong Kong with a market capitalization of approximately $19 billion. Although gender diversity in the region lags, Link has been a leader, with four female directors on a 12-member supervisory board. Back in 2013, May Tan, a bank CEO, and Elaine Young, a real estate executive, were invited to join a board Tan laughingly now describes as “male, pale, and stale.” Then-Chair Nicholas Sallnow-Smith was very committed to setting the tone, telling Tan “that neither Elaine nor I were in the room because we were women, but because we had skill sets that were relevant.”
Tan resolved to work with Sallnow-Smith to improve diversity on the board, and he then placed her in charge of the Chair Search Committee, which meant that she would lead the process of finding his replacement. For her, comfort with leading an already quite diverse board was a key requirement. “I made sure I asked each of the candidates their views on diversity. And [current Chair] Nick Allen answered the questions brilliantly.” Although Allen views diversity through a much wider lens than gender, he says that he thinks having four women on the board creates much more nuance in the overall discussions.
Today, Young and Tan say the question of gender has become somewhat irrelevant. Says Young: “We have demonstrated that women can speak up in the boardroom. And so when more women came in, no one made a big deal out of it. Tan agrees. “It is not women and men talking, it is financial, legal and real estate professionals. There is no tokenism.” Yet both women caution other women considering board positions to do their due diligence beforehand and not jump at the first offer. “Make sure you join a board where your voice is appreciated — not because they need diversity,” says Young. “Women who are well qualified would not want to be in a rubber-stamp role.”