On December 1, 2023, Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business (CKGSB) successfully held the 2023 Women in Leadership Forum with participation from UNESCO and support from Development Reimagined. The forum convened 140,000 viewers across 8 media platforms and over 440 Zoom registered global participants. This year’s event puts a spotlight on Africa – the continent of the future – and leaders who are spearheading gender equality in China and Africa across the agriculture, energy, education and tourism sectors. It brought together distinguished ambassadors, entrepreneurs and academics from both continents to address the unique challenges faced by women and explored solutions through China-Africa cooperation.
CKGSB’s Dean Distinguished Chair Professor of Finance, and Associate Dean for Degree Programs, Li Haitao, delivered the opening keynote speech and emphasized the importance of gender equality in leadership roles. Professor Li said, “companies must achieve gender balance in the future,” citing research that show companies with “women on their boards outperform those without and that organizations with women in senior leadership roles are more profitable.” Professor Li highlighted CKGSB’s commitment to empower more women business leaders since the school established in 2002, through scholarships and programs for promising female talent. One such program is CKGSB Juanyong Program, launched in 2022, to help China’s outstanding female entrepreneurs and family business leaders hone their leadership skills, business acumen and vision, especially while leading family businesses through an uncertain future.
CKGSB launched Juanyong Program in 2022 to help China’s outstanding female entrepreneurs and family business leaders hone their leadership skills, business acumen and vision, especially while leading family businesses through an uncertain future.
Following Professor Li, Mohamed Elfarnawany, Director for Priority Africa Coordination Division at PAX, UNESCO, spoke about the many challenges African women face despite making up half of the continent’s population and being at the forefront of social progress. Women in policy-making positions are still under represented. Furthermore, they lack economic and educational opportunities. He expressed UNESCO’s commitment to collaborate with CKGSB in empowering women, particularly African women, in education, culture, social sciences, and technology to achieve gender equality.
Subsequently, the Ambassador of the Republic of Mozambique to China, Maria Gustava delivered a keynote speech saying, “gender equality is not just an abstract concept, it is the cornerstone of building a prosperous and inclusive society.” Research shows that Africa’s underdevelopment and the loss of women’s rights have formed a vicious cycle. According to estimates from the African Development Bank, narrowing the gender gap can increase the continent’s GDP by an additional 12%. She said that during her tenure as ambassador to China, she saw successful paths of gender change in grassroots poverty alleviation projects, and she hopes to see more similar projects become the focus of China’s development on the African continent. Gustava urged, “It is crucial to not only make women a mainstream to development, but also to reward and inspire women to be at the heart of international development cooperation.”
——Maria Gustava, Ambassador of the Republic of Mozambique to China
Following Gustava’s keynote speech, the ambassadors engaged in a dialogue session, chaired by Hannah Ryder, CEO of Development Reimagined, an international consulting firm bridging Chinese and African businesses, on the theme of “New Vision for China-Africa Cooperation: Empowering Women Towards a Shared Future.” Oliver Wonekha, Ambassador of the Republic of Uganda, said that with many Chinese investment projects springing up on the African continent, she hopes that this process can better help cultivate female entrepreneurs and promote the development of women in leadership roles. Isabel Domingos, Ambassador of the Democratic Republic of Sao Tome and Principe, shared that women are still relatively scarce at the political decision-making level. To further improve gender equality, women should be given the same resources and opportunities as men, and laws that can foster equal opportunities to help protect women’s rights.
Following the dialogue, CKGSB’s Associate Professor of Organizational Behavior and Associate Dean for Inclusivity, Diversity and Equity, Zhang Xiaomeng, presented, “Where is “Her Recovery” Heading After the Hard Times?” Citing recent research and analysis, Professor Zhang Xiaomeng said that the four biggest barriers holding women back from leadership roles are: work and family obstacles, insufficient social capital investment, social perceptions and stereotypes of female managers, and the impact of organizational/corporate culture. Prof. Zhang then cited her research on female leadership style which found that female leaders have demonstrated sustained and strong resilience, especially during hard times.
The four biggest barriers holding women back from leadership roles are: work and family obstacles, insufficient social capital investment, social perceptions and stereotypes of female managers, and the impact of organizational/corporate culture.
The final panel of distinguished speakers consisted of Lina Ayenew, Founder of Education for Ethiopia, Irene Maria, Product Owner at Safari Wallet, Li Yi, Co-founder of FarmWorks and Xu Xiaoju, President of Shenzhen Yinghe Technology Co.,Ltd. and chaired by Professor Tao Zhigang, CKGSB’s Professor of Strategy and Economics and Associate Dean for Global Programs. The four Chinese and African female executives and company founders shared insights on how Innovative technologies have helped their businesses. Lina Ayenew, shared how her experience in China inspired her to set up her own company using technology to change the way children learn. Li Yi, shared that more and more Chinese entrepreneurs regard Africa as a market with huge potential. CKGSB alumna Xu Xiaoju said that the lack of confidence in female leaders around the world is the biggest obstacle holding them back from achieving higher leadership positions. Xu said, “We hope that African countries can continue to invest in and strengthen women’s education, and improve women’s social status and employment opportunities.”
The lack of confidence in female leaders around the world is the biggest obstacle holding them back from achieving higher leadership positions. ——Ms. Xu Xiaoju, President, Shenzhen Yinghe Technology Co.,Ltd.; CKGSB Alumna
CKGSB held the first Women in Leadership Forum in 2013 as a platform for celebrating success stories, empowering aspiring women leaders, promoting gender equality in the workplace, and offering an opportunity to create positive change. Since then, the forums have featured influential leaders including Sheryl Sandberg (Facebook’s COO), Geoff Wilson (KPMG Asia’s COO), Julia Broussard (Former head of UN Women China) and Yang Lan (Prominent TV Presenter and Co-founder of Sun Media Group).