Be bold for change !

This colum was previously published in Hong Kong Echo in april 2018

Greater involvement of women in the Hong Kong’s business world is key for the city to reinvent itself, according David Baverez, author of Paris-Pekin Express. He tells us why women — and female entrepreneurs in particular — must “be bold for change!”

The slogan of the United Nations 2017 International Womens’ Day has probably never been more relevant than today for the female business community in Hong Kong. At a time when the city is at a crossroads in need of redesigning its role-model vis-à-vis the Mainland, there is no doubt that a greater involvement of women will be required for Hong Kong to reinvent itself successfully.

The best-kept secret of China. If there’s a main lesson one can draw from the stunning economic success of the Mainland over the last thirty years, it’s that the best-kept secret of China is its women! Chairman Mao had already acknowledged it, insisting on female education as a key tool to develop the future of the country. Any lunch in Mainland today will teach you that it is your hostess — and not you! — who is the one deciding on the most important question of the day: what to eat? No surprise, then, that 55% of Chinese startups are being set up by women, versus only 22% in the US, testimony to the legendary entrepreneurial blood of Chinese women. And, if one more piece of evidence was required, put together a self-assured American CEO like Travis Kalanick of Uber, and a young bright Chinese female CEO like Liu Qing of Didi, and, as one would expect, it’s the Chinese woman who wins. Helped not least by her education that she sums up in the main principle she inherited from her father, the founder of the Lenovo group: “It’s supposed to be hard!”

There’s a main lesson one can draw from the stunning economic success of the Mainland over the last thirty years: the best-kept secret of China is its women !

Intrinsic qualities. There is therefore no doubt that HongKong has a lot to win by getting women more involved in the business community. Not through legal quotas in the boardrooms, as the West is artificially trying to push through in its part of the world, but more in the typical Hong Kong ‘hard’ way, through success thanks to one’s own intrinsic qualities. First, women are far more sensitive to the issues linked to the concept of ‘smart city’ that Hong Kong needs to develop if it wants to regain its influence as a provider of ideas to the Mainland, namely on topics like pollution, energy, environment, food safety, health services or education. Second, women are usually psychologically far more advanced at judging soft skills like integrity and sincerity, the two necessary key ingredients for identifying the right business partner, i.e. the toughest decision that any entrepreneur faces when setting up a new venture in Hong Kong. Third, women tend to be the best judges at risk-taking, when their natural greater risk-aversion invites them to require higher return for every small incremental risk, making them very shrewd decision-makers in day-to-day business life.

There is no doubt that HongKong has a lot to win by getting women more involved in the business community

Even more decisively, women are key to the business world as they represent, in a vast number of industries, the majority of the end-customer base. Women tend to shop more than men, even defining in some cases their own identity though their purchases. This was illustrated recently in Mainland by the very successful “Change Destiny” campaign of the SK II cosmetics brand, or the emergence of the “ME Mums” phenomenon, asserting mothers’ greater independence in the Chinese society. That women as a result are in a much better position to understand rapid customer evolutions in today’s very fast-moving market environment is as a result, for me, a given. Various testimonies in this issue of HongKongEcho, coming from very successful Hong Kong-based women entrepreneurs, will splendidly illustrate this point.

So, What can the Government do to help? Is what should we be asking in the typical French manner. The obvious answer is for the Hong-Kong Government to inspire itself from one (of the few?) very successful public policies in France, i.e. the family support that has helped France’s birth rate remain one of the highest of the developed world. In Hong Kong, this will not only consider improved infrastructure for children, education for women, but also at-home care services for the elderly, as looking after dependent elderly relatives remains one of the most frequent causes of career breaks for middle-aged women in Hong Kong.

No Hong Kong administration should be better placed than the current one to address these issues, precisely as it is headed by a woman as Chief Executive, herself knowing the feeling of being surrounded by (too) many men!

So, finally, my advice to Hong Kong’s women is simply to build their own definition of entrepreneurship and, as a result, to ‘be bold for change!’

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David Baverez

David Baverez

Business angel / demon. Based in Hong Kong since 2011. Columnist, author of “Paris-PekinExpress”, “Beijing Express” and “Génération Tonique”.