Paving the Way for Young Women in Business

Promoting gender equity is a team effort and the younger generations’ voices matter in driving changes in the future world. A group of business students share how they gather momentum to help their female fellows approach the business world with confidence and fortitude. 

Fostering business leaders

Women in Business (WIB), one of HKUST’s newest associations for female students, was born out of necessity. Upon returning to Hong Kong in 2020 after an exchange trip abroad, Gillian DEL MUNDO (Global Business and Economics, 2021), found that the existing initiatives on campus lacked what she felt was needed to guide young women starting out in business. 

“Ultimately, the reason which started it was there weren’t enough diversity and inclusiveness initiatives. When you look at female students, there’s not really anything that talks about the barriers that women could go through, especially in the business world,” says Gillian, who has joined the world's largest cosmetics company as a management trainee after graduation from HKUST. 

The aims of WIB are threefold: to empower women to become business leaders, to introduce its members to successful professionals, and to close the gender gap in leadership.

Inspiration and mentorship

Echoing the association’s founding purposes, Lillian CHOW, a year-two finance student, joined the club as a member last year. Growing with a dream to be an entrepreneur, she is looking for role models for inspiration and mentorship. 

“While society has improved in how women and men are treated in many ways, women are still struggling for a delicate balance between career and family. I would love to hear more of their personal stories and insights, which would be helpful to guide me through my career building,” says Lillian.

The Project Leadership Program is probably the group’s most important initiative, organized in liaison with the Hong Kong Women Professionals and Entrepreneurs Association and funded by HKUST’s Entrepreneurship Center, which allows students to create their own businesses or non-profit projects and receive mentorships with successful female professionals over a whole semester. The program was met with encouraging responses from female professionals. Around 16 mentors were involved in last year’s program, mentoring 20 to 25 students. 

Solving real-world problems

Among the projects mounted were Pledge Support for Women’s Career, a community project that investigated the challenges facing career women and sacrifices they made when making choices between career and family life; and Sew for Change, a sustainable fashion enterprise by Pakistani women. 

“I remember, in a mentoring session, a female mentor who is now a senior management executive was teary recalling that she missed her son’s first birthday for a business trip. Her son is in his twenties now, but she still regretted it and blamed herself for focusing too much on her career. We could feel the pressures on her over the years,” says Lillian, who is a member of Pledge Support for Women’s Career.

To scale up the project and make a real impact on society, the project team collaborated with Junior Chamber International Hong Kong and Womentor to conduct a survey about the obstacles encountered by women along their career path. The survey concluded that the lack of childcare support, intense competition for school places and the balance between career and family are among the most pressing challenges that discourage women from pursuing senior positions, and as a result some of them even quitted their jobs and return to their families.

Sparking changes

Their findings captured attention from over 32 organizations and corporations across different industries including Facebook (HK), who signed a pledge to support women in the workplace and agreed to revisit their corporate policies .

“Our generation grew up in a fairly gender equal society where girls would not be seen less than boys. But what’s next? The responsibilities of taking care of family and children still fall largely on women’s shoulders. We’re happy that our project sparked a change in promoting a gender-friendly workplace culture.  We hope in ten years’ time, this will become a major policy for companies,” says Lillian.

Celine HUSADA, the current president of WIB and a year-four student of Information Systems and Marketing from Indonesia, says that launching an association during the pandemic was challenging but also presented opportunities. 

“We were able to link up with similar groups overseas through online events, including the University of California at Berkeley”. Most recently the club took part in a joint conference called the Women Leaders Conference Week, where WIB collaborated with university groups from Singapore, Indonesia and other countries in the region , drawing illustrious speakers from companies such as HSBC, Twitch, Stripe, Procter & Gamble and Deloitte. 

Celine says that expansion is next on the agenda for the club. They are planning to  expand their partnership network, both through collaborating with internal HKUST groups and partnership with external companies and social organizations. It will be a continuation of the pioneering work WIB has done in its first two years, where it has provided a vital connection between the aspiring businesswomen and successful ones.