Feature Stories

02.05.2018

Women Leading the Way

HKUST Business School outstanding female alumni discuss equality in the workplace

The HKUST Business School boasts a list of impressive female business leaders and entrepreneurs among its alumni. Four of them share their thoughts on gender diversity in leadership positions, the opportunities and challenges faced by talented women, and the approaches that have made them successful in their careers. They are Christine Ip (HKUST MBA alumna), CEO - Greater China of United Overseas Bank; Sophia Leung (Kellogg-HKUST EMBA alumna), Asia Pacific CIO of J.P. Morgan; Zou Yunli (HKUST EMBA for Chinese Executives alumna), Managing Partner of Tiantu Capital; and Gesche Haas (HKUST BBA Global Business alumna), Founder of Trailblazer Ventures.

Success in a predominantly male profession

Banking has traditionally been viewed as a predominantly male profession. But Christine Ip, United Overseas Bank’s CEO of Greater China, believes that anyone with the right capabilities can succeed in her sector today.

“In the banking industry, which is highly competitive, diverse strengths in the workforce help to enrich business competitiveness and organizational performance,” Ip says. She adds that women bring distinctive and valuable qualities to their work. “Women are more detail-minded, have better interpersonal skills, and are good at relationship building,” she says.

Ip thinks women in Hong Kong and Asia who are pushing for the top jobs have an advantage – a better chance to hire a domestic helper. “Their support provides incentives for working women to continue or rejoin the workforce, even if they have kids or babies to take care of,” she says.

Sophia Leung is the Asia Pacific Chief Information Officer and Global Head of Governance and Controls for Cybersecurity and Technology, with J.P. Morgan. She believes a broader demographic representation at all levels, including the very highest, can make a significant contribution to an organization’s success.

“It brings diversity in thought, skills and perspective,” she says. “It is also very important that the workplace reflects the diversity that exists in communities.”

Leung holds that, as long as they put in the hard work and take the opportunities to develop their skills, women should never underestimate their potential.

“During the early part of my career I was fortunate to have female role models in leadership positions. They gave me advice, mentorship and the confidence to find my own path. In retrospect, I can see that’s been critical in enabling me to take on new roles and new risks, and believe it was OK to do things such as take maternity leave."

Equal opportunities for entrepreneurs

Since the 1980s, women in the mainland have received the same educational opportunities as their male counterparts, according to Zou Yunli, the Managing Partner and COO of Tiantu Capital, a venture capital association focused on investments in consumer products.

Zou believes those joining her industry will also experience equality of opportunity. “It makes no difference if you’re a man or a woman. Your success will be largely based on your understanding of the industry, your professional judgement and your personal ability, not your gender,” she says.

While Zou does consider women to have unique strengths, she feels that talented people of either gender face similar challenges. “Women are better communicators and are more detail-minded. But in the fast-moving business world, it is important for us all, male or female, to stay curious and be willing to learn,” she says.

Also an entrepreneur, Gesche Haas is the founder of Trailblazer Ventures, a start-up lab with a mission to boost the number of female-founded ventures. Haas sees female talent as an “under-leveraged opportunity”, and she advises would-be female entrepreneurs to place more trust their own gut instincts.

“It's so easy to go through every day working harder because we think more equals more, while never taking a second to consider if our hard work will lead us to an outcome that we actually desire,” she explains.

Haas encourages more women to strike out on their own. “You learn so much about yourself when you are an entrepreneur. It's one of the scariest and most rewarding things you can do,” she says.