(Bloomberg) -- One of Hong Kong’s oldest companies added two female directors this year, becoming one of only a dozen members in the city’s benchmark index to cross the 30% threshold set by activists for board gender diversity.

CLP Holdings Ltd., the 122-year-old utility that provides electricity to much of Hong Kong and operates in Australia, India, Thailand, Taiwan and mainland China, now has five women on its 14-person board. That makes it an outlier on the city’s main Hang Seng Index, where women account for less than 30% of board seats at 68 of the index’s 80 members. 

The 36% female representation on the board puts CLP above the target set by the 30% Club, a global campaign promoting corporate gender diversity. It also puts the utility ahead of younger companies such as search giant Baidu Inc. and electric carmaker BYD Co. which have no female board directors.

“Diversity will collectively make us a better board in terms of making decisions for the company,” said Betty Yuen, who joined CLP’s board in January. “Women do bring in skills and perspectives that complement our male colleagues.”

The unit of the CLP Group, in which billionaire chairman Michael Kadoorie’s family is the largest shareholder group, aims for women to make up half of senior management by 2030, according to Yuen.  

Among those striving to reach the 30% level for board members is Geely Automobile Holdings Ltd. The company, which currently has three women on its 11-person board, has set a target of 30% or higher by the end of 2025, Geely announced in a filing with the stock exchange last month. 

The Hong Kong stock exchange in January 2022 set a three-year deadline for every listed company to have at least one director of a different gender from the board majority.

Ten members of the Hang Seng Index still have no women on their boards and the city is making slow progress improving gender diversity, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Women held only three more seats on the boards of companies in the index during the first quarter of 2023, compared with the previous three-month period.

Other companies should follow CLP’s lead, said Yuen, who became the first female managing director of CLP’s Hong Kong power subsidiary in 2002 and is now its chairman.

“Hong Kong wants to remain one of the most important international financial centers,” she said. “We have the foundations to be a bit more aggressive in setting targets.”

Although BYD has an all-male board, the company had woman board members in the past and is contemplating adding a female director by the end of next year, BYD said in its latest annual report. BYD “is committed to promoting gender diversity not only within the board but among its workforce generally,” it said.

Baidu “puts workplace diversity at the forefront of its talent development,” with women accounting for about 44% of management, a level that is “above the industry average,” a company spokesperson said in an email. 

The percentage of female directorships in Hong Kong increased to 18.5% from 17.9% in the first quarter of the year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

  • That is above the 15.1% of the Nikkei 225 in Asia and below the 36.3% of women on boards of the S&P/ASX 200 in Australia, 32.6% of the S&P 500 in the US and 39% of the Stoxx 600 in Europe
  • Four Hang Seng companies increased the number of women on their boards; the top companies by market capitalization were China Construction Bank Corp., HSBC Holdings Plc and CLP Holdings
    • Sunny Optical Technology Group Co. no longer has an all-male board
  • Hang Seng Bank Ltd. was the only member to reduce the number of female directors, though it remains atop the index with the highest percentage of women on its board

Peter Grauer, chairman of Bloomberg LP, is founding chairman of the US 30% Club. 

--With assistance from Linda Lew and Zheping Huang.

©2023 Bloomberg L.P.