We were honoured to be invited by the Executive Committee of the residential hall Lady Ho Tung Hall at Hong Kong University on 25 October 2018 as a guest speaker for their October 2018 High Table Dinner. The theme of the night was women’s empowerment and we were fellow speakers alongside Mabel Au of The Association for the Advancement of Feminism (AAF), who shared about their work in promoting gender equality in Hong Kong.

Alicia Lui spoke on behalf of WISE HK, sharing how sports are an important and necessary tool for accelerating women’s leadership. Photos from the evening are here (taken by the team at Lady Ho Tung Hall). We also share the speech below:


Hi everyone! I’m excited to be here and thank you for having me as a speaker to tonight’s event.


My name is Alicia Lui and I’m the founder of Women In Sports Empowered Hong Kong. WISE HK is a non-profit initiative that uses sports as a tool for women’s empowerment. We’re all about promoting sports for women and girls in Hong Kong.


On a personal level, a topic that is near and dear to me is on women’s leadership, specifically the lack of women in positions of leadership. It’s a global situation across many industries. For example, in Hong Kong, there has never been a female university vice chancellor, only 13.8% of board members of Hang Seng Index Constituent companies are women, and only 10% of Legco are women. Why are there fewer women in positions of leadership?


Some people say we aren’t raising enough of our girls to have the ambition to be leaders. The stereotype of what a leader is contradicts with the stereotype of how girls should behave. We’re told that the road to the top is long and arduous. We’re told that we need to care for our families. And often our own voice, our own self-perception tells us we don’t have the skills or mind set to be a leader. Leadership for women feels so far beyond our reach for various reasons.


With the recognition and acknowledgement that this is detrimental to society, government, non-profits, businesses and many institutions are adopting policies to address this. Some countries have introduced gender quotas. In Hong Kong there are movements such as the 30% Club.


However, we need to go beyond.


If we want our girls to take on leadership positions in the future, we need to make leadership fun, appealing, accessible and start building up our girls’ ambition to be leaders. We need to empower them with not only the skills but also the mind-set to do so.


And I believe that sports are a powerful tool to do this.


Sports matter. Sports help with maintaining focus, reducing stress and improving our mental and physical strength. Sports are empowering as they build our self-esteem and body image. Playing sports teaches us crucial life skills such as teamwork, communication, discipline, time management, strategy, resilience and persistence — skills we need daily and skills we associate with leadership. The United Nations says:

Sport in its simplest form, encourages balanced participation and has the capacity to promote and achieve gender equality within societies.


Sports are especially important for girls. A recent study in the US of over 10,000 girls, found that those who play sports report higher levels of confidence, often have higher grades than those who don’t, and are 14% more likely to believe they are smart enough for their dream career. They are also 16% less likely to want to change their body image.


Girls need to play sports.


Yet, in Hong Kong, we don’t have a strong enough sporting culture that promotes a sporting mind set. We don’t sufficiently acknowledge how sports foster leadership skills, and we definitely don’t do enough to encourage girls to play sports. A 2016 survey conducted by Chinese University of 11 – 18 year olds in Hong Kong found that 11% more boys than girls participated in regular exercise class outside school PE, and that although half of these youth took part in leisure time sport at least once per week, the percentage was lower for girls than for boys. Research from the Women’s Sports Foundation in the US found that by the age of 14, girls are dropping out of sports at twice the rate of boys. I don’t have the exact numbers for Hong Kong, but I imagine the situation is similar.


Playing sports feels particularly challenging for our girls. In our 2018 WISE HK survey, 77% of our under-18 year old respondents felt that compared to men, women face more challenges playing sports. The most common being: physical challenges (25%), sexism (18%) and lack of confidence (16%). Compared to older age groups, our under-18s are twice more likely to report sexism and lack of confidence as challenges.


You probably understand. You might have been told, “sports are play and not important, so focus on your studies instead.” Or, “if you play too many sports you might get too muscular.” Or, “playing too many sports is risky and you could get injured, so you shouldn’t play so much.” You might have faced the situation of being one of only a handful of girls on your team; sometimes not even having enough girls to field a team. Or, you might have experienced that the boys have more access to different types of sports.


And despite the increasing recognition that sports play a necessary role in our lives, girls still face roadblocks. Recently, I heard from a student that in her school, while the boys can practice sports on school grounds after classes are over, the girls, not only go to a different district, but go on weekends for practice.


This doesn’t seem right. Not when girls tell me they like playing sports. Our survey shows that for over one quarter of our respondents they play sports primarily because of personal enjoyment and satisfaction.


It seems that girls are sometimes held back from sports.


The thing is, there are numerous stories of the benefits of sports for girls as they progress towards womanhood and professional careers. EY research on global senior female executives found that 94% of women in the C-suite played sport, including 52% at university level. 74% said that a sports background helps to accelerate a woman’s career. In the 2017 Fortune Magazine list of Most Powerful Women, 65% of those listed played sports competitively in either high school or college, sometimes both.


Sports are a powerful tool to accelerate women to positions of leadership.


What can we do to give our girls the opportunities they want to play sports, so that they can use sports as a tool to advance their personal and professional lives?


I believe we can start by encouraging girls to see sports as accessible to them, and as fun. We need to create sporting experiences that cater to their differing needs, wants and expectations. We need to introduce different sports. We need to show that sports are for you, and me, regardless of our ability, and for all of us to enjoy and experience. If we can create the sporting experiences that a girl finds fun, if we can pique her interest to try in the first place, if we can bring a smile to her face when she plays, then she might enjoy it so much that she comes back to play. Not only that, to tell her friend, and to bring her friend to join next time.


Crucially, we need to make sports for women and girls much more visible. In the US in 2014, women took up only 2% of airtime^ on the sporting network ESPN. This compares to 95.5% for men. We did a count of sports-related SCMP articles published online between 2– 4 May 2017. Of the 24 articles, only 2 were of women in sports — that’s less than 10%. If we want to get more girls playing sports, we need to normalize the public perception that it’s not just men who play sports, and that women and girls are worthy of being covered too!


At WISE HK, one way we are planning to use sports to empower girls is through the launch of our WISE Sports Leadership Program to enable girls who are interested in gaining leadership experience to do it through sports. The aim of this Program is to advance girls’ impact in their communities by enabling them to coach, captain, manage or start sports teams or sporting activities.


On ending my sharing, if there are any takeaways for you, please remember: sports matter. For our wellbeing and for fostering our leadership mindset and skills. Please join us in our mission to promote sports for girls. Take Action. Be Active.

  • If you love sports and play sports, encourage your friends – especially the ones who don’t currently play — to join you. And share your story.
  • If you want to try a sport but don’t know what to play, ask a friend
  • And lastly if you truly think you don’t like sports … never say never. Just give it a go!


Thanks again and I hope you’ll enjoy the rest of dinner.



^Source: Women in Sports: 50 Fearless Athletes Who Played to Win