Just 15 years ago, a female executive of any kind was rare in Hong Kong. A lot has changed since then, thanks in part to the efforts of Fanny M. Cheung, PhD, psychology department chair and professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK).
In 1995, the Hong Kong Government passed an ordinance banning discrimination on the basis of gender and marital status. To enforce the ban, the ordinance established an Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC). The government appointed Cheung as its chair, due to her extensive background with gender issues. Cheung founded CUHK's Gender Research Centre in 1985, and then years later, the school's gender studies program, the first and still the only one in Hong Kong.
In four months, Cheung hired the EOC's senior staff and developed the organization's vision, mission and strategic objectives, she says. Next, she started educating people.
"Equal opportunity was a completely new concept to mycommunity," Cheung recalls. "Most of my staff did not fully understand the meaning and implications of the concept or the law."
They caught on quickly, though, thanks to Cheung's commitment to public education about the new law. Within 18 months of the EOC's establishment, awareness among the public and business community of the legal requirement to treat women equally rose from 35 percent to 87 percent, she says.
Cheung's efforts certainly paid off. Today, according to EOC, women make up nearly 52 percent of Hong Kong's workforce, and the Hong Kong Census and Statistics Department reveals that women holding leadership positions-as managers or administrators, for instance-rose from 20 percent to 27 percent between 1991 and 2006.
"I always enjoy the satisfaction that something is changed for the better or someone has been helped as a result of what I do," she says.
In 2004, APA gave Cheung an APA Presidential Citation recognizing her efforts to promote psychology in Chinese societies and her dedication to cross-cultural and gender research. That research, says Cheung, has helped her continue to push gender equality forward despite widespread gender stereotypes and prejudice in Chinese culture. While no longer EOC chair, Cheung continues to educate herself and speak out on empowering women across cultures to show their worth both in the office and at home.
"Being a woman is our given, but we don't need to be constrained by the prescriptions of social norms," says Cheung. "Embrace [your womanhood], but don't be conscious of yourself as a woman."