Lena Wong, founder, Hong Kong Momtrepreneurs and co-founder, WoMentors, explores solutions with us to make companies more innovative and profitable, by supporting mothers in your workforce. She is sharing her personal journey and answering our questions on how to create an environment where mothers can thrive in both the workplace and parenting.
Why did you choose to push forward motherhood and entrepreneurship through a non-profit organisation and a consultancy?
I was professionally trained and worked in Finance and for many years worked in asset management and family office. I started Hong Kong Momtrepreneurs back in 2018 from a passion project of a Facebook page to share knowledge and resources with fellow mothers who want to start businesses and eventually registered this as a non-profit organization. In our 4th year now, we are providing programs to empower marginalized / grassroot mothers through entrepreneurship. Due to the lack of daycare facilities in HK, many females have to leave the workforce when they become mothers and they’ve been stuck at home. HK Momtrepreneurs teach them more about entrepreneurship so they can find their passion and talent, and continue learning and be role models for their children. As HK Momtrepreneurs is now focusing more on charity work, I have co-founded a business called Womentors helping companies to build better workplaces and retaining/recruiting female talents. We want to bring women back to the workforce and help companies to reach these untapped talents. I guess once you have started an entrepreneurial journey, it’s hard to stop.
If we have a good number of highly educated women in Hong Kong, wouldn’t the society as a whole be better if those women can also contribute themselves in the workforce?
What is specific to Hong Kong in terms of the female labour force?
Despite Hong Kong is a city where we see gender parity in university education, we see a substantial fall in the female labour force participation rate (LFPR) especially for those who are married and with young children. In 2018, the LFPR of never-married women is 91.3% compared to ever-married women which is 64.9%. Among married women, the LFPR of those without children is 79.4%, compared to those with children aged 0-14 which is 56.6%, and those with children aged 15 and above which is 66.%. “There are many things parents can do to be role models for their children”, Lena Wong believes. Photo Credit: Lena Wong
What would be the benefits for Hong Kong society of having more women, and especially mothers, present in the workforce?
Numbers speak for themselves – if we have a good number of highly educated women in Hong Kong, wouldn’t the society as a whole be better if those women can also contribute themselves in the workforce, especially during their prime age? If you look at the potential upside for the society of bringing more women back to the workforce, using Japan and Korea as examples, it’s estimated that potential increase of GDP levels assuming female employment rates to that of males in percentage terms in 2017 were 10.2% and 14.2% respectively.
What benefits can a company get by being more inclusive for women, and mothers?
Companies that encourage diversity and inclusion have a much greater chance of attracting and hiring high-quality candidates. Diversity has been shown to boost creativity, and it’s no secret that companies are always looking for the next big thing. Researches also show that having a higher percentage of female leadership vs. zero female leadership can see a 46% difference in Return on Equity and a 54% difference in Earning Before Interest and Tax. Firms with above average “total diversity” as another example had an average 19% point higher innovation revenues.
Do working moms negatively impact kids?
No, I don’t think so. In fact, I believe that working moms can positively impact their children in many ways. One biggest benefit is the financial independence that helps boost the confidence of the mothers who in turn can bring that positive energy to their children. Children of working mothers tend to become more independent. Since working moms need to teach kids how to do chores on their own, they develop a strong sense of responsibility at an early age. Certainly, that can also bring more balance of shared responsibility between both parents in the house which also good education of gender equality for our next generation. However, there are possible setbacks if the mothers work significantly over time and do not pay attention to their children. Also in Hong Kong, children with both working parents may be taken care of by their grandparents or foreign domestic workers so they may not be given the same opportunities to train on independence. Bottom line, it’s important to have balance and not necessarily whether working mothers are better than stay home mothers or vice versa. It is important for mothers to have their own passion and talents so they can have the self-confidence to bring up brighter and happier children. Breaking the bias is one obsession of Lena. Photo Credit: Lena Wong
Which initiatives companies can introduce to support working mothers?
There are many initiatives companies can do which require top-down and bottom-up support. It is important companies are willing to put adequate resources on supporting working mothers and for all staff members to have a full understanding of the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Flexibility is always most important for working parents as nowadays it is increasingly demanding for parents to attend to their children, especially during COVID. Flexibility can come in many forms and companies should explore more ways to solve the pain point of working mothers. While flexible working hours and remote work are already becoming the norm COVID, companies should look into providing more options such as job sharing, reduced working hours, and a compressed workweek to attract untapped talents. These benefits are not commonly found in Hong Kong and companies who can be more forefront to provide them become sought-after employers who can attract a great pool of candidates.
If we need a village to raise a kid, we certainly need more than the whole company to build an inclusive workplace for better gender equality.
Alongside flexibility, companies can implement returnship programs providing career opportunities for individuals who have taken off from the workforce for a variety of reasons. The benefits returnees can bring back to the workplace such as creativity, diversity, and dynamicity, which significantly outweigh the adding on resources required for training, nurturing, and mentorship needed to support the returnees to contribute themselves well to the companies. While it is important to retain and recruit female talents, it is as important to have the staff members ready. Building strong support networks for working parents and women leadership is another way to build more inclusiveness in the workplace. Having strong male ally support is also beneficial as the male counterparts need to have a non-judgemental understanding of the challenges working mothers face. If we need a village to raise a kid, we certainly need more than the whole company to build an inclusive workplace for better gender equality.
Thriving in both parenting and in the workplace is possible, as Lena demonstrates every day. Photo Credit: Lena Wong
As a working mother, what is your advice to male allies?
I have been fortunate to have great support from my male counterparts. My father, as the sole breadwinner of the family, had always been the one cleaning the floor at home. My husband has been more than my best friend and partner and has always been a loving father to our daughters. However, we need MORE men who are willing to stand up and advocate because more voices from male counterparts can make a bigger difference that gender is not a single-gender issue.
What message do you instill in your children regarding gender equality?
I believe in “walking the talk” – while I do a lot of advocacy and work on gender equality, I often have a lot of reflections on how I can make a difference in my daily life. I started Hong Kong Momtrepreneurs because of my daughters as I want to create a better world for them to have gender parity in the future. I have indeed also put into practice each year I make one small change in my daily habit that can create a better world. Last year I had completely changed to zero waste periods by using only sustainable sanitary products. This year I have been cutting out land animals from my food consumption to be a pescetarian. These are some of the small things each one of us can consider doing as parents and be role models for our own children.
About Lena Wong
Lena Wong is the founder, Hong Kong Momtrepreneurs and co-founder, WoMentors.