In Asia, Greenhouses for Women at the Top ; Universities in China, South Korea and India Offer Executive Programs

By Yang, Calvin | International Herald Tribune, May 28, 2013 | Go to article overview

In Asia, Greenhouses for Women at the Top ; Universities in China, South Korea and India Offer Executive Programs


Yang, Calvin, International Herald Tribune


The University of Hong Kong has held the first part of a course to prepare Asian women for the boardroom: The Women's Directorship Program.

Asian universities are beginning to do what has long been practiced in the West: offer short courses specifically for women who are leaders in business and politics.

While the business schools at Harvard, Oxford, Stanford and others have established courses for female executives, such offerings are just starting to make their mark in Asia.

Last month, the University of Hong Kong held the first part of a course meant to prepare Asian women for the boardroom: The Women's Directorship Program.

Offering a certificate upon completion, the program is sponsored in part by the executive search firm Harvey Nash and had the first of two three-day sessions in April. Another is planned for June. Participation costs $10,000, and the course covers strategic leadership, stock exchange regulations, conflict resolution and ethics.

Amy Lau, director of both the university's business school and its executive education program, said there would be several short courses focused on potential board directors in Asia. "We have decided that this first one should focus on women because there is currently a shortage of women on the boards," she said. "This program aims to address the imbalance in boardrooms."

Dr. Lau said that women have often felt tied down by family commitments. "Even now," she said, "some are not sure if they are suitable for directorships, even though they have served in senior executive positions. Often, they are less inclined to put themselves forward."

Fifteen senior executives from various sectors, including finance, logistics and telecommunications, attended the course as students. Ruth Rowan, the marketing director for Asia, the Middle East and Africa for BT Group, described it as an eye-opener.

"There was a huge amount to learn from each other, as well as the speakers," she said. "I have always worked in industries where men are definitely in the majority, so I was intrigued to see how a course solely for female executives would work," she added.

"There is clearly still an issue in most organizations that women are not represented proportionally, particularly in more senior roles," Ms. Rowan said.

The curriculum, which includes case studies, is taught by lecturers from the university's faculty of business and economics, plus industry leaders like Rick Haythornthwaite, the chairman of MasterCard, and Umran Beba, the Asia-Pacific regional president of Pepsi.

But of the 21 professors and speakers listed on the Web site of the Women's Directorship Program, only five are women, meaning that three-quarters of the instructors are male.

"Most of the directors invited are men but we would like to show that there are a few women serving in leadership positions in top corporations and that these positions are achievable for our students," Dr. Lau said. "It is also a reflection of the situation now. There are not many women leaders in the boardrooms," she added.

She is hopeful that "in the next few years," the university can invite more women to speak.

Anne Parkin, a director at Credit Suisse in Hong Kong and a student in the program, said, "It is attractive to join a group of women executives from diverse backgrounds and exchange with them the various challenges facing executives of both genders."

She added: "The community will certainly benefit from having access to a pool of female leaders who can easily move proactively into leadership roles."

The University of Hong Kong is planning for the second installment of the corporate directorship program, which is expected to run early next year.

Women represent less than 6 percent of all boardrooms across Asia, according to a 2012 study by McKinsey, the management consulting firm. …

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