May 2016
Striking a Balance

Michelle Low
Michelle Low

Michelle Low, Finance Director of Swire Properties Ltd and Director of John Swire & Sons (H.K.) Ltd, is one of the Swire group’s most senior female executives. She also chairs the Swire Group Gender Diversity Committee, first formed in March 2013. She talks to Swire News about the Committee, the issue of gender diversity and what the group is doing to address it.

What exactly is gender diversity and what inspired you to get involved with the Gender Diversity Committee?

When people hear the term "gender diversity", most think specifically of women's rights in the workplace and of the particular challenges faced by female professionals. However, gender diversity is just as relevant for men, who face their own unique pressures.

Gender diversity falls under the larger umbrella of equal rights, which is not just a moral issue but also a practical one. Research shows that a better balance within the team – whether in terms of sex, race or socioeconomic background – leads to better results. So equal rights is a vital foundation of productivity and long-term sustainability.

In the years that I have been with the Swire group, I have been given a lot of opportunities to learn and develop. I would like to share my experiences, from a woman's perspective, and help encourage gender diversity within the Swire group.

What are the aims of the Committee and what has it achieved to date?

When it was formed, one of the Committee's first tasks was to examine the group's current gender diversity performance and benchmark it against other organisations recognised for their diversity achievements. Understanding how you are doing is always the first step in planning. Surveys and focus groups were held across the Swire group to gather information for this purpose.

The Committee found that there was varied gender balance across the different divisions and this was due to varying considerations and challenges. Bearing this in mind, the Committee decided to draw up a high-level policy paper. The aim of the paper was to outline the diversity objectives of the Swire group, while allowing individual divisions to formulate their own specific plans. I am happy to say our companies have been quick to pick up the torch, launching various initiatives including Diversity Day at Swire Beverages, a Diversity and Inclusion Committee at Cathay Pacific, as well as the construction of more mothers' rooms in Swire head offices.

Another key aim of the Gender Diversity Committee is to build external relationships with thought leaders in the area, allowing us to learn and share best practices. We have become actively involved with non-profit organisations such as Community Business and The Women's Foundation and have benefited hugely from their findings and advice.

All that said, I feel the Committee's main achievement has been enhancing awareness, bringing the issue of gender diversity from the realm of the subconscious into conscious, everyday thinking.

Can you tell us about the Women's Network?


At the launch of the Swire Women's Network, panel speakers were invited to share their views on gender diversity and equal opportunity at work. (Left to right): Michelle Low, Pat Healy (Managing Director, Swire Beverages), Angie Lau (Bloomberg Television anchor), Su-Mei Thompson (The Women’s Foundation CEO), Mabelle Ma (Director, Development and Valuations, Swire Properties) and Martin Cubbon (Swire Pacific Corporate Development & Finance Director).
Swire Women Network Highlight

Watch the Swire Women's Network launch event highlights.

The Women's Network is an initiative recently launched by the Gender Diversity Committee. It aims to help enhance the Swire group's ability to attract, develop and retain female talent, by supporting women's career advancement. It provides a forum for talented women at Swire to connect with one another, as well as a group mentorship programme. Under the mentorship programme, interested parties can apply to receive mentorship from one of the group's directors, a valuable opportunity that has been enthusiastically embraced by over 100 participants to date.

Watch the interviews of the Swire Women's Network Panel speakers here:

A conversation with Michelle Low

A conversation with Mabelle Ma

A conversation with Su-Mei Thompson

Are you one of the mentors?

I am indeed. I hope to be of use.

Have you yourself benefited from a female role model?

Actually, I have and I think people who know me can guess who. My role model is Baroness Dunn, who I have long admired not only for her success in the corporate world, but her commitment to her public roles and her passion for the people she works with. She always has time to stop and talk and she still gives me advice to this day. I hope I can channel a little of that energy in my mentoring.

Do you have any advice for women, or indeed men, who are hoping to build a successful career at Swire?

I believe that success within the Swire group depends on merit and requires certain key attributes: diligence, a positive attitude and passion. That applies to men and women equally. I would advise our staff to make sure they fully embrace all the opportunities open to them. Few organisations can offer the same potential for learning and development, so the sky really is the limit, whoever you are.
Swire News May Issue
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