Work in Progress

Nadia Chan

Molly Lim has just completed a second term as president of the Hong Kong Association of Business and Professional Women. She talks about how the career woman's lot has improved - but still has a long way to go.

WORKING IN A CITY like Hong Kong can be tough and stressful, and it's not easy to find a balance in life. So it's encouraging to see young people taking control of their lives. There was more of a balance in the 1980s, whereas the 90s was more focused on work. And now we're back to this

search for balance.

While some trends go in cycles, one condition that has remained constant is the glass ceiling women face in the workplace. However far you develop, you always find a ceiling to overcome, and a lot of the top positions are still held by men.

When we set up our organisation in 1979, our main goal was to level the playing field for women in the professional world, particularly younger women. What set us apart is that we offered a bursary for female students in the non-traditional fields of the time, such as IT and engineering.

We've now reached a point where the notion of 'non-traditional fields for women' is no longer relevant. Things have picked up and men are more prepared to accept women and view them on the same playing field, especially in the banking and legal worlds.

However, as one female executive speaker (who shall remain nameless) recently said at the AGM of the Hong Kong Association of Business and Professional Women (HKABPW), when you're the only woman in the boardroom, the pressure is on and certain attitudes remain unchecked.

There's room for improvement and the glass ceiling has yet to be shattered. But we've seen our share of change, thanks to the Women's Commission and the Equal Employment Opportunities laws. The number of women-run organisations and businesses has increased over the years. For example, the 'softer side' of the logistics business, an aspect of which is relocation, is a rapidly growing area for women.

As a developed 'world city' famed for its efficiency, where domestic support is readily available for most working mothers, Hong Kong may seem like the perfect breeding ground for the alpha career woman.

While there are numerous remarkable female role models in Hong Kong, there's also an interesting cultural paradox at play. Despite their professional drive and aspirations, many Asian women still tend to cling to the idea marriage and children are what they want, and that life isn't complete otherwise.

Another tendency that has remained is women leaning towards 'no barrier entry' sectors such as PR, training, marketing, web design, writing and other professions with a creative leaning. With this in mind, some women may in fact be the ones placing a restriction on their own career paths.

The most important thing is to know yourself and your strengths, to identify the skills you need to acquire and, crucially, to want to acquire those skills. The mentorship programme at HKABPW is built on these ideas.

With our programme, young women can learn the nuances of the corporate world in a safe environment. We show them the ropes from our own experiences. It all boils down to women helping other women develop professionally and personally.

What advice would I give to young women?

It's not about gender - it's about merit. Think to yourself, 'He may be a guy, but if I'm better, then I'm better.' Never let gender be an issue.