When I signed up to be one of 10 university presidents who would be Impact Champions for the United Nations Women HeForShe initiative (www.heforshe.org/en/impact), taking my university into an internationally prominent role on gender (in)equity and committing to providing data that might not flatter us, I encountered one of three reactions, both inside and outside the university. A small proportion of people clearly thought I had taken leave of my senses to take on such an intractable issue and to prioritise it when there were so many other challenges facing us. A similarly small proportion welcomed my courage and committed to helping me. The third, “middle”, group was by far the biggest: people saying that they could understand why I thought this was important and we should do something about it, but they either thought it was already being addressed by others or that it could only be seen as a long-term societal issue on which we could contribute but not lead. I saw as my challenge converting as many as possible of this large middle group, which I characterised as “passive believers”, into the second group of “active believers”. Then I learned about the work being done by one of my own academic staff, Dr Sarah Jane Aiston, which provided me with some ammunition to help address my challenge. Sarah’s data provides objective facts and some analyses on possible causative factors. She was courageous to take on the subject, tenacious in seeing the project to its conclusion, and very helpful to me in providing factual data that could not, or at least should not, be ignored. Her conclusions necessarily refer most immediately to the higher education sector in Hong Kong, but also contain generic messages for other sectors in Hong Kong, for higher education in other parts of Asia and the rest of the world, and for the whole topic of gender inequity worldwide. I commend it to you and thank the Leadership Foundation for its role in part-funding and encouraging the work.
Universities should lead by example in advancing knowledge, promoting social justice and providing opportunities to all and sundry for self-improvement, career advancement and societal benefit. The fact that universities’ track records on equal opportunities remain far from perfect is a blot on our collective copybook. Data such as that provided by Dr Aiston should provide a clarion call to action. Let’s be neither complacent nor defeatist about this: let’s work to better understand the issues, and commit to addressing them. We owe it to ourselves, our students, staff, alumni and friends, and to the societies to which we aim to make lasting contributions.