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Speech by CE at WomenCorporateDirectors 2017 ASPAC Institute conference (English only) (with photos/video)
     Following is the speech by the Chief Executive, Mrs Carrie Lam, at the WomenCorporateDirectors 2017 ASPAC Institute conference today (September 28):

Benny (Chairman of KMPG China, Mr Benny Liu), Susan (Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the WomenCorporateDirectors Foundation, Ms Susan Stautberg), ladies and gentlemen,

     Good morning. I am pleased to welcome the WomenCorporate Directors Foundation to Hong Kong. The WCD represents the largest group of female corporate directors in the world, with its 3,500 members serving on more than 8,500 boards. Hong Kong, I'm pleased to note, is one of your 78 global chapters. And I'm delighted you've chosen our city for your 2017 WCD Asia Institute conference. As the first female Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, I am honoured to be invited to open this conference.

     You're here, of course, because Hong Kong is one of the world's most important financial capitals, a regional business hub boasting some 8,000 international and Mainland enterprises. You're here to share your experience and expertise and to lend support to one another as business leaders, and as role models for professional women in general.

     As I have been in public service throughout my 37-year career, I do not intend to speak on the business topics which are to be covered in your discussion sessions later on. However, as I know that the Foundation's goal is to get women on corporate boards, I would like to share with you how women in Hong Kong are doing in terms of their participation in the public, as well as private sectors.

     In this regard, I'm pleased to note that women in Hong Kong have come a long way in my lifetime. A lady called Ellen Li became the first female member of our Legislative Council, that is our parliament, in 1966.

     In 1982, five women gained seats in the first District Board Election - that is, our local advisory bodies. Three years later, Peggie Lam became the first female District Board Chairperson. In 1993, Ms Lam went on to found the Hong Kong Federation of Women, which is a very important women organisation in Hong Kong up to this day.

     That same year, that is 1993, Anson Chan became the Government's first female Chief Secretary, heading the civil service. Soon after, Elsie Leung became Hong Kong's first female Secretary for Justice, while Rita Fan was sworn in as our pioneering female Legislative Council President.

     For those who do not know Hong Kong well enough to know the names I mentioned, you may know the next one. My good friend, our first female Director of Health, Dr Margaret Chan, became Director-General of the World Health Organization in 2006. She served the Organization for more than a decade, before stepping down in June this year.

     There are, of course, 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 per cent of the students enrolled in programmes funded by our University Grants Committee in the 2016/17 academic year. That's up 6 per cent 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 per cent 20 years ago to more than 51 per cent 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 per cent to 29.5 per cent 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 per cent in 1996 to nearly 51 per cent in 2016. But this is an area that this government will work harder at, because I noticed that even at 51 per cent 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 per cent of Hong Kong's solicitors and 50 per cent of our public accountants, compared to 32 and 33 per cent respectively 20 years ago.

     Over that same period, women's share of managerial positions has gone from about 20 per cent to 33 per cent. 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 per cent of the board directors of Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index companies are women. Still, that compares favourably with Singapore at under 10 per cent, Japan at 3.4 per cent, and South Korea at just over 4 per cent.

     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 SAR Government, the news is mixed. We have only two female Principal Officials in the new-term Government - myself and the Secretary for Food and Health, Professor 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 per cent 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 per cent 20 years ago.

     In social and political participation, last year the number of female registered electors was up more than 44 per cent over 1998, while the corresponding increase in male registered electors was less than 27 per cent.

     For Government-appointed advisory and statutory board and committee members, some 32 per cent of the non-official members are now women, up from about 17 per cent in 1996. And we are working towards a benchmark of 35 per cent.

     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 bureaux 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 child care and elderly services support, strengthening training and employment services and promoting family-friendly employment practices.

     For child-care services, we provide about 7,000 places at some 250 subsidised child-care centres and kindergarten and child-care 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 child-care 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 per cent 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 believe KPMG is also an active participant in such schemes.

     Is it enough? Of course not. As your Chairman and CEO Susan noted in a speech, earlier this year, "Corporate ocean liners turn very, very slowly."

     Government liners are slightly better, but not a great deal faster, unfortunately. But at least both are turning, and turning in the right direction. And, 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.

     I wish you all a rewarding conference and a very enjoyable stay in Hong Kong.

     Thank you very much.
Ends/Thursday, September 28, 2017
Issued at HKT 12:55
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The Chief Executive, Mrs Carrie Lam, speaks at the WomenCorporateDirectors 2017 ASPAC Institute conference today (September 28).
The Chief Executive, Mrs Carrie Lam, attended the WomenCorporateDirectors 2017 ASPAC Institute conference today (September 28). Photo shows Mrs Lam (left) during a dialogue session with the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the WomenCorporateDirectors Foundation, Ms Susan Stautberg (right).

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CE attends WomenCorporateDirectors Foundation 2017 ASPAC Institute