Lord Davies’ report into women in the boardroom highlighted once again the lack of women in the top jobs.Lord Davies said:
Over the past 25 years the number of women in full-time employment has increased by more than a third and there have been many steps towards gender equality in the workplace, with flexible working and the Equal Pay Act, however, there is still a long way to go. Currently 18 FTSE 100 companies have no female directors at all and nearly half of all FTSE 250 companies do not have a woman in the boardroom. Radical change is needed in the mindset of the business community if we are to implement the scale of change that is needed.
Unfortunately the problem isn’t confined to the boardroom as can be seen by looking at just one professional body, the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW). The ICAEW was set up in 1880 to train and represent chartered accountants (ACAs). Although the admissions of females was discussed in 1895, and in 1909 the then President of the Board of Trade, Winston Churchill, told the ICAEW to admit women, it was not until 1919 that the first female was finally admitted. Until the mid 1970s the numbers of female ACAs remained at the 5% level, but by 1990 the numbers had increased to 12%, by 2000 to 19% and by 2008 around 24% of the membership was female. Total membership worldwide is currently about 136,000. The number of female ACAs may have increased but only 10% of senior positions are held by women
It is perhaps tempting to think that the lack of women in the profession is due to a lack of interest in accountancy or finance on the part of women, yet the historical evidence suggest otherwise. Indeed a special edition of Accounting History Review was devoted to women’s involvement in accountancy and investment. This showed that, for example, women routinely kept the books for large estates and family businesses as part of their domestic responsibilities. By the nineteenth century the majority of bookkeepers were women and in the First World War, women were drafted into the Army Pay Department. Octavia Hill, as well as her charity work, kept the books for voluntary organizations, taught bookkeeping, and managed her family’s finances.
It is not, however, the lack of female members that is the real problem or indeed the real shock; it is the extent of the earnings gap between the sexes that really shocks and illustrates the problems faced by women. Female ACAs earn 70% of the average salary for men, yet have passed the same exams and were trained in exactly the same way. This is unlikely to be due to lack of ability: in the 2010 professional exams, 8 out of the 10 prize winners were female. Part of the reason for the gap is usually explained by the fact that female ACAs are more likely to work part time than their male contemporaries (24% compared to 9%) and are also more likely to work in the sectors that typically pay less, such as public sector, charities or not for profit organizations (24% compared to 9%). However a recent survey suggests that the pay gap is widening: in the last year, the earnings of female ACAs under 30 fell by 6% yet men in tin the same age group saw a rise of 6%. Bonuses also vary by gender: male ACAs typically get a bonus of nearly two and half times greater than that awarded to female ACAs. It seems we still have along way to go.
Jane Berney qualified as an ACA in 1998, after studying history at Manchester University. She stayed in the profession until the birth of her second son in 1999. She did not realise until she researched this blog quite what a pioneer she was, though she had always suspected the pay gap existed.
 As quoted on the Department for Business and Innovations website, 24 February 2011 http://www.bis.gov.uk/news/topstories/2011/Feb/women-on-boards#women accessed 10 March 2011
 Figures taken from ‘ICAEW Presentation: Women in the city- Follow up submission, October 2009’
 Accounting History Review (2006), 16:2
 Ibid, Josephine Maltby and Janette Rutherford, ‘Editorial’ pp133-142
 Accountancy, March 2011 p97
 ICAEW press release
 Accountancy March 2011, p97
The colonial authorities of nineteenth century Hong Kong believed that the vast majority of the Chinese women residing in the colony were prostitutes. For example, in 1878 Charles May, a member of the colonial government, testified to an inquiry into the regulation of prostitution that: ‘I should say that only about 1/6th of the Chinese women in the Colony live with one man either in marriage or in concubinage and all the rest come under the denomination of prostitutes to whom money being offered they would consent to sexual intercourse.’ May’s view was given additional credence (at least in the eyes of the members of the inquiry) by the evidence of a Chinese Doctor, Pang –Ui –Shang who estimated that ‘the respectable women of Hong Kong at 25% of the female population’ and also claimed that ‘as regards prostitution this Colony has an especially bad reputation.’ 
If one applies May and Dr Pang’s estimates to the population figures for 1878, this would suggest that some 20,000 women were working as prostitutes and also that the ratio of prostitutes to the total male population was in the range of 1: 7, or 1: 5 for the Chinese population. To me this seems very high but as an historian interested in women’s history what really bothers me is that there has been no detailed study on whether this is a fair representation of the female population of nineteenth century Hong Kong. In part this is because most of available sources only refer to women when they represent a problem and prostitution was considered a problem. However, even if the only available sources are the official documents generated by the colonial government, such as legislation, correspondence with the Colonial Office in London, census returns, school inspections, court records etc., it does not take much effort to find references to women who were not prostitutes and who were not a problem in any other way (e.g. as criminals, paupers etc) and one can use these to construct a more representative picture.
Here are a few examples of some of the evidence that I have found to date. Court records, even though they focus on women who have committed or are accused of a crime, and so may not be representative of the female population as a whole, can be used to demonstrate the variety of occupations that women undertook. For example in 1847 an extensive, illegal lumber industry was discovered by police. The employees were male but it was run by a Chinese woman. Clearly women could and did run their own businesses, even if, as in this case, it was illegal. Court cases also illustrate that many brothel keepers were women. What is particularly interesting is that many of the brothel keepers were not former prostitutes but saw it as legitimate business enterprise, often a joint enterprise with their husbands. Some of the brothels were quite large – for example one brothel keeper is described as employing over a 100 people consisting of 50 male staff, 22 female servers and nearly 30 prostitutes. The Colonial authorities generally regarded all female inhabitants of a brothel as prostitutes, but as can be seen in one sad case where two women jumped to their deaths to avoid being caught by the police; this was not always the case. The Coroner’s Inquest into their deaths suggests they worked as servants in a brothel.
Other evidence from government sources can be equally illuminating. For example the land registry gives several examples of women who owned property, bought and sold property and rented it out. The women tended to be Hakka women rather than Han Chinese (the predominant ethnic group) or ‘kept’ women that is the mistresses of Europeans who were given property to secure their future (and presumably that of their children) once the affair was over or the man returned home. The annual report on government schools by the school inspectors is another good source of information. The reports tell us that the girls were taught needlework and domestic skills by a Chinese school mistress, usually the wife of the school master. They were not taught English, as according to the Inspector of Schools this would make them dissatisfied with their humble station in life! Boys, of course, were taught English so they could eventually get a job with the colonial government or one of the many European mercantile houses. Apart from illustrating the government’s unenlightened attitude to female education, the school reports give an indication of the number of families in Hong Kong, although we cannot tell the occupation of the children’s parents. The census records do, however, list all the occupations of the Chinese inhabitants, though it does not split them by gender. The 1877 census, for example, states that there were 109 brothel keepers, some of whom would have been female. It also lists102 play actors; again we know that some of these actors could have been female because the leading members of the Chinese community petitioned the Governor requesting that he forbade female actresses from performing in Hong Kong because of their lewd behaviour. The Governor agreed to the request and published a notice to this effect in The Hong Kong Government Gazette, the official publication of colonial government in which all official notices, pronouncements etc were published and again another very useful source.
So, as I have attempted to demonstrate here, whilst it may feel like one is searching for the proverbial needle in a haystack, it is possible to use the official sources to begin to construct a more rounded picture of women’s lives in nineteenth century Hong Kong, and such a picture , is I would argue, long overdue.
Jane Berney works on the implementation of the Contagious Diseases Ordinances in Colonial Hong Kong at the Open University. She is also a committee member for the Women’s History Network.
 Commissioners’ Report