• Innovation
    • Improve Efficiency

The business world needs a more diverse cast of role models

  • Article

Michelle Yeoh’s best actress Oscar1 for 2022’s Everything Everywhere All At Once cemented her role as a global role model for Asian women in an industry that has traditionally offered few opportunities for female actors to shine in strong lead roles – and even fewer for women of colour.

In Hollywood, Yeoh has been at the tip of the spear, helping move perceptions of Asia from being an object of exotic curiosity and into the mainstream narrative of the global entertainment industry. Everything Everywhere took in US$141 million worldwide and won seven Oscars – more than any other film that year.

Marvel highlighted its first Asian American superhero in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings in 2021, which grossed more than US$430 million worldwide and was the first in the comic book franchise to be helmed by an Asian director. (Yeoh appears there, too.) Pixar’s Turning Red, which centres on a Chinese-Canadian girl, was the second-most streamed movie in 2022.

From Korean Wave pioneers such as Parasite and Snowpiercer to the hit Yeoh-driven Netflix series The Brothers Sun and Ali Wong’s award-conquering Beef2, Asian women are delighting global audiences in bad-ass roles alongside mostly Asian casts portraying Asian lives. Their stories are written by Asian writers, poking tongue-in-cheek fun at their own stereotypes in a declaration of confidence and pride.

Gone – or going – are the tropes of Asian women as victims and submissive witnesses to male agency. Entertainment companies are awake to the power of Asia’s young, educated and digitally savvy consumers – as last month’s3 US$8.5 billion tie-up between The Walt Disney Co. and India’s Reliance Industries shows.

From storyboard to the boardroom

This shift in focus extends beyond the entertainment industry. Driven in part by regulation and partly by sound business sense, global corporations, sports bodies, and government policies are reflecting a societal shift towards greater diversity and inclusion that recognises the importance of inspirational role models in building sustainable and healthy economic growth.4

Women’s sport is also more popular than ever before, providing women and girls with a host of role models, from Hong Kong Olympic swimmer Siobhán Haughey to American gymnast Simone Biles and British tennis player Emma Raducanu. The 2023 women’s soccer world cup drew more than 2 billion viewers globally, according to Euromonitor International, up from 1.12 billion in 2019.

The importance of role models has long been understood. Actor Gillian Anderson, as FBI agent Dana Scully in the 1990s US television series The X Files, inspired an earlier generation of women to study or pursue careers5 in science, according to the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media – which dubbed it the “Scully Effect”. Disney’s 1998 Mulan, in which a girl disguises herself as a man to lead an army, showed younger children the fallacy of gender-based restrictions to their aspirations and abilities.

Academic studies have shown the importance of women on boards in inspiring female employees, as well as in adding balance to company decision making. Women are more likely to value stakeholder engagement, work-life balance and focus on sustainable business practices, multiple research papers have shown. Management processes and corporate governance improve as a result.6

McKinsey has consistently found a strong link between ethnic diversity in the boardroom and financial outperformance, for example. Companies in the top quartile for ethnic representation are 39 percent more likely to outperform those in the bottom quartile, according to the firm’s 2023 Diversity Matters report.

Here in Malaysia, publicly traded firms must have at least one woman as a director on their boards. The revised Malaysian Code of Corporate Governance 2021 by the Securities Commission Malaysia also recommended that all Boards should comprise at least 30% women directors.

Inspiring change

According to the Gender Equality in Corporate Leadership: Regional Analysis Report by the United Nations Sustainable Stock Exchange Initiative in partnership with the International Finance Corporation (a member of the World Bank Group) and UN Women in December 2022, Malaysia is one of only four emerging markets where more than 20% of the top 100 PLCs’ board seats are held by women.7

But more needs to be done.

Worldwide, in organisations where men are actively involved in promoting gender diversity, 96% report progress. Conversely, among companies where men are not participating, only 30% do, according to a 2017 Boston Consulting Group study.8

Gender equality has advantages for men as well, most notably in terms of parental rights and flexible working to support a healthier, balanced lifestyle that leads to increased mental health and wellbeing.

Whether it’s Michelle Yeoh high kicking her own martial arts stunts, or Qiming Venture Partners’ Nisa Leung building a venture-capital market for the health care industry, or Katharine Wilkinson bringing climate and gender equality to the forefront, all of these leaders are powerful role models who are breaking ground and shifting perceptions in their chosen fields.

Each of these leaders will be speaking at the HSBC Global Investment Summit in Hong Kong from 8-10 April 2024.

HSBC Global Investment Summit

The inaugural HSBC Global Investment Summit will take place on the 8 to 10 April 2024 in Hong Kong, bringing together over 2,000 delegates to discuss the global trends and topics shaping our world.

Need help?

For more information, please contact your HSBC representative.