Smashing the ceiling

PUBLISHED : Friday, 20 July, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 20 July, 2001, 12:00am

In spite of the disadvantages they have to overcome from a school allocation system that has been proven discriminatory, many of the SAR's women are still going full steam ahead into a range of professions.

Today's Focus feature about the preponderance of females in the legal profession is just one example of a trend echoed in journalism and medicine, and spreading to areas which are still very much male dominated, like architecture and engineering.

However, it may be years before women start making bigger inroads into computer technology or other scientific fields. One reason why women gravitate towards the arts rather than sciences is because traditional values still consider the arts are more 'ladylike'. Women are not expected to have an aptitude for science. Most are encouraged to opt for the arts stream in secondary school, barring them from courses that lead to careers in the sciences or hard-hat professions such as civil engineering.

For the small number of girls who defy convention and graduate from the science stream, many opt to join medicine because it is a caring profession, and therefore an area where women are expected to shine. In Hong Kong University's medical school, the ratio of final year students is 106 men to 70 women. This year's intake is 90 men to 85 women.

Compared with many other countries, it cannot be said that women in Hong Kong generally fare worse than men because of their gender. Certainly, there are fewer women than men who are judges and magistrates, and there are no women chief editors in local newspapers and few female faculty heads at universities. But about 270 of the Government's 500 administrative officers, who form the backbone of the bureaucracy, are women, as are eight of our principal officials.

In both the public sector and the corporate world, an increasing number of women are making their mark because they tend to have better language and communication skills - two essential attributes for any ambitious young professional eager to make his or her mark in a bilingual city. With two or three notable exceptions, by far the most eloquent members of the Legislative Council are women.

Yet a survey two years ago found that two-thirds of families still thought a university education was more important for their sons. Perhaps the statistics will prompt them to think again. Women have the talent and the commitment to make it to the top of professional associations and the community at large. If there are still glass ceilings blocking their rise, they need to be smashed - the sooner the better.