Opinion: Where were the women at HK's global summit?

Hong Kong's Financial Leaders Investment Summit held on Nov 7-8 boasted close to 60 speakers and moderators, of which only seven were women. Finance is still very much a man's world, it seems.
Opinion: Where were the women at HK's global summit?

Women were in short supply as speakers at Hong Kong's highly anticipated Global Financial Leaders’ Investment Summit this week.

While there were some highly insightful panel discussions, what struck me the most about the event was that 'there were so few women on stage.'

It felt a bit surreal to see panel after panel dominated by male speakers, even though there is no question that all of them were financial heavyweights.  

At most events, there is always a good mix of male and female panellists, so this event stood out for its lack of gender parity.

To be sure, the organiser, Hong Kong Monetary Authority, did a fantasic job in getting top executives from many of the world's biggest names in finance including Blackstone, Citadel, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, Standard Chartered and Barclays.

Only, those executives were men.

The gender disparity was glaring: close to 60 speakers and moderators -- and only seven women.

Four of those women came in as moderators for (mostly) all-male panels.

Among the speakers, we had Jane Fraser, CEO of Citi; Valerie Baudson, CEO of Amundi; and Anne Richards, CEO of Fidelity International.

Hong Kong's Securities and Futures Commission chief Julia Leung also gave opening remarks on the second day of the event.

Yet it would have been nice for the audience -- which undoubtedly consists both genders -- to have a better mix of men and women of influence to feel inspired by.

This isn’t necessarily the fault of the organiser, because it is a fact that many top leaders in mainstream finance and asset management are men. Yet, you can argue the organiser should have tried harder to get more female financial leaders on stage.

Even a casual Google search of “top women bankers” throws up a strong list 25 names by the American Banker – and that list covers only women in the US.

In today’s day and age, seeing panel after panel of men in suits only serves to remind the rest of us that despite the major strides made in investing and wealth generation, it’s still very much a man’s world.

And while the situation in banking has improved somewhat in recent years with a greater number of women in the C-suite, the alternatives industry is still very much a boy’s club as could be seen by the top CEOs who attended the global summit.

This is why the push for greater diversity to introduce different points of view is important and must continue.

Even more so when you hear comments like these: “…Chinese women are extremely good portfolio managers and analysts. The sample size is not necessarily big enough to do a kind of proper academic study. But we have an incredibly high hit rate of very good and very successful Chinese women at Marshall Wace,” declared Paul Marshall, CIO and chairman of UK hedge fund Marshall Wace, on one of the panels (another all-male panel, I should add).  

Next time, I would like to see these successful women up on the stage, speaking. 

Studies continue to show that women tend to be better at longer-term investing and risk management and companies that incorporate a diversity of views in their decision-making process make better decisions. 

Companies with more gender-balanced workforces outperformed their least-balanced peers by as much as 2 percentage points annually between 2013 and 2022, a BlackRock study of the MSCI World index released last week showed.

On a side note, for a global financial summit held in Hong Kong, the first day of the event featured very little about Asia. 

A lot of us would have wanted to know what the top executives in other parts of the world think about investing in Asia, especially China, right now. 

Maybe the conversations off-stage were centred on Asia but one can only assume from what was not said on stage that sentiment is not very positive? We can only read between the lines.

The second day had more Asia-centric comments, but they were from financial organisations based mostly in this part of the world.

Despite my overall disappointment with the ‘gender balance’ of the event, there were some very good moments too. 

I single out Apollo Management’s Marc Rowan for providing one of the juiciest quotes of the event.

"Most of the capital that I see being required for decarbonisation, energy transition use your term, is not actually equity. It's debt and hybrid. I think it is going to be the largest use of capital since the invention of fire,” he said. That quote is absolute gold. Five stars to the Apollo chief.

I’ll be talking about that one for days to come.

This story has been updated in para 10 with new information.

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