LONDON (Reuters) - Staff and investors in HSBC (HSBA.L) questioned its new bosses on Friday over how they will improve gender balance and ethnic diversity in senior management at a bank that only weeks ago reported the biggest gender pay gap among big British companies.
Mark Tucker, the bank’s new chairman, and new chief executive John Flint faced questions from their own employees at the bank’s annual general meeting (AGM) in London over why so few women and people of color are in its senior ranks.
“I want to know specifically what HSBC is going to do to get people like myself sitting there [on the bank’s board], I want to come to this AGM and see a reflection of myself sitting there,” said Ololade Durodola, a black woman who works in HSBC’s retail banking division.
Flint replied that the bank has committed to a target of increasing the ratio of women in senior management roles to 30 percent by 2020, from 26.5 percent today, but that it needs to do more on both diversity and gender balance.
“Until our senior leadership is representative of the people we are serving, we are running a business risk,” Flint said.
At board level, five of the HSBC’s 14 directors are women after the bank reduced the board from 17 members on Friday as part of efforts by Tucker to reduce bureaucracy and speed up decision-making.
Europe’s biggest bank also faced questions on its funding of coal power plants in Asia after it unveiled a new energy policy on Friday that involves phasing out funding for fossil fuels.
Shareolders queried HSBC on an exception it has made for coal-fired power plants in Bangladesh, Indonesia and Vietnam, which the bank said is a sensible short-term exception given the lack of alternative power sources in some parts of those countries.
HSBC last month revealed it has a gender pay gap of 59 percent, the largest among British companies with more than 250 employees and caused by the lack of women in senior, better-paid roles.
CEO Flint told reporters on the sidelines of the AGM that the bank has taken measures including a requirement for hiring shortlists to be gender-balanced but said the bank would stop short of choosing women for senior jobs because of their gender.
“We have to create an environment where women can fulfil their potential, but if we start trying to put women into roles because they are women, we undermine this agenda,” Flint said.
Durodola told Reuters after the meeting that she had confidence that Flint would try to tackle the problems of gender and ethnic balance in HSBC’s senior ranks but said she did not expect the problem to be fixed quickly.
“There’s no Indian person, no African-American, no Afro-Caribbean on that board,” she said.
“We need to look at diversity together. Flint’s been through the system, he’s been groomed with HSBC values so hopefully he’s a man of his word,” she said.
Reporting by Lawrence White; Editing by David Goodman