WILHK Anniversary Event

On 28 November 2017, approximately 100 women and men present at Women in Law Hong Kong's ("WILHK") anniversary event at Employees Only had the honour and pleasure of participating in the sharing of Fiona Nott, CEO of the Women's Foundation, who has had a long and inspiring career in many areas of law.  In her fireside chat with Alison Tsai, Head of the WILHK Events Committee, she shared her career path, the challenges she has faced along the way and the current landscape in Hong Kong in relation to gender diversity.

Fiona's early career began with a judge in Australia, where she had the opportunity to work on human rights matters, an area to which she returned later in her career.  She then received an offer from a progressive law firm, where she started as a junior associate in the regulatory and competition law department. 

The challenges women face in the workplace became apparent to Fiona very early on, when she and others realized that male lawyers in the profession were often getting paid more than the female lawyers at the same level. 

With a group of female colleagues Fiona and the group discussed their career ambitions and encouraged each other on strategies to advance in the workplace.

With encouragement of her female colleagues Fiona mustered the courage to ask for a secondment, which brought her to Hong Kong and subsequently she joined the then PCCW, Hong Kong Telecom.

Fiona provided some insightful statements into her career as a corporate in-house lawyer.  Whilst enjoying the business side of work and exposure to the telecommunications, regulatory, commercial and HR sides of the business, she also felt that given the long hours and pace of work over a long period, she found it difficult to develop and maintain personal connections.

Thus, Fiona wanted to try something different and turned to the NGO space.  By chance, when she was on holiday in Laos, she met the founder of Room to Read, a non-profit organization focused on girls' education and children's literacy in Asia and Africa.  With Room to Read, she moved to India, where her legal background aided her work with the organization, particularly with legal and governance issues.

The conversation turned to the present, in response to a question from the audience about how Hong Kong could support human rights more.  Fiona mentioned that one of the challenges with NGO work in Hong Kong in paying the salaries of the employees, which makes fundraising a really big part. 

Fiona mentioned that her corporate governance experience has helped in her work with The Women's Foundation, but that much more needs to be done in Hong Kong.  There is a perception that there are many women in senior roles in law and business, but the statistics show that Hong Kong lags behind other countries in the region.  Female board members comprise only 13%, which Fiona described as "woeful", but which she also attributed to a lack of awareness in many companies of the importance of gender diversity. This touched upon the topical issue of the Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing (HKEX)’s recent Consultation Paper on the Review of the Corporate Governance Code including Board Diversity.  Fiona expressed that the reform do not go far enough to achieve real change and urged the attendees to submit their or their organisation’s response to include a specific focus on gender diversity, measurable objectives for change and specific guidance to the process for nomination and board diversity review in the Corporate Governance Code. 

 

So what can be done? Fiona discussed the importance of making companies aware of the benefits of diversity: more diversity leads to better decision-making and companies have better results.  Diversity is better for business and having diverse top-level management in companies will benefit the whole community.  The significance of having male gender allies was also discussed, with Fiona mentioning that more men are getting involved in The Women's Foundation and that The Women’s Foundation has a Male Allies comprising senior business leaders committed to furthering gender diversity.

Related to the diversity issue was the current awareness campaign surrounding sexual harassment and sexual assault in the workplace.  In this context, the importance for lawyers to not only be personally aware of these issues and report complaints but also in handling sexual harassment issues sensitively and running investigations appropriately is paramount.  One of the main points Fiona emphasized was the need to talk about the business case for more diversity, make companies aware of the issue, train management, and stimulate discussion. All of these actions aids in the prevention of sexual harassment.

The evening ended with a rapt discussion from the audience on how we can all make a difference over cocktails and canapes.

Stephanie Sheng, Chair of Women in Law Hong Kong commented, “WILHK and the broader legal community in Hong Kong are extremely fortunate to have Fiona Nott leading TWF, as her experiences in the global market illustrate a tenacity of spirit and a diverse perspective.  The conversation on gender equity has now evolved beyond awareness, and is now focused on solutions and strategies – something that Fiona has a proven track record of producing.  We at WILHK value our continued relationship with TWF and together are looking forward to progressing gender equity.”

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