How Hong Kong’s top university is closing the gender gap at top levels: all-out support is key
- The Women’s Studies Research Centre strives to drive institutional and cultural change on a systemic basis
- Gender disparities are relics of the past that have no place in “Asia’s Global University”
We write in response to the September 24 article by Jeffie Lam, “Where Are All the Women? 4 in 5 senior academics at Hong Kong’s publicly funded universities are men”. While we are grateful to Ms Lam and the Post for bringing this important issue to the public attention, since Hong Kong needs to utilise all its talent – men and women – in order to remain competitive globally, we believe there is a need for more elaborate details on the efforts made to redress this imbalance across campuses in Hong Kong.
As representatives of several of these initiatives at the University of Hong Kong, we would like to draw your attention to measures we have put in place to enhance equity and diversity at HKU. Since its inception in 1994, the Women’s Studies Research Centre has put gender and diversity issues at the forefront of its work. The centre regularly engages stakeholders within and outside HKU through research and knowledge exchange activities, to raise awareness and drive institutional and cultural change on a systemic basis.
In December 2014, HKU’s Equal Opportunity Unit set up a Working Group on Race, Gender Identity, Sexual Orientation and Family Status, chaired by the convenor of the Women’s Studies Research Centre, to examine HKU’s equality policies. Since her appointment as vice-president and pro-vice-chancellor for Academic Staffing and Resources in 2016, Professor Terry Au Kit-Fong has led efforts to enhance gender parity and equity, women’s access to leadership opportunities and family-friendly measures.
In December 2015, Dean Derek Collins created a Gender Task Force in the Faculty of Arts, with a mandate to investigate the extent of gender inequality in the faculty and propose improvement measures. Based on the task force’s recommendations, Dean Collins established the Committee on Gender Equality and Diversity. Earlier this year, the faculty established HKU’s first ever Gender Studies programme.
Other campus initiatives include Women in Science and Engineering (HKU WISE) from the Faculty of Science, Women Plus Innovation in the Common Core programme, and the Prevention of Sexual Harassment Online Course, a collaboration between colleagues from the President’s Office, the Equal Opportunity Unit, Committee on Gender Equality and Diversity and the Women’s Studies Research Centre.
While the number of women in leadership positions has been frustratingly static over the years, these recent initiatives hold some promise. Does this mean, however, that HKU’s work is done? Quite the contrary. The momentum generated since HKU’s signing onto the UN Women’s HeForShe Initiative demonstrates that institutional change requires a clear vision, commitment and vigilance from the leadership to phase out gender disparities as relics of the past. These have no place in “Asia’s Global University”. To be effective, however, leaders require commitment and support from staff at all levels.
Puja Kapai, associate professor of law and convenor, Women’s Studies Research Centre, and Gina Marchetti, the Committee on Gender Equality and Diversity, Faculty of Arts, the University of Hong Kong