March 8 is International Women’s Day. This year’s theme, #BreakTheBias, is all about working towards a society free of gender stereotypes and discrimination, where differences are known and celebrated. A 2020 study by the UN found that 90% of people have bias towards women. The HK HUB speaks to 7 women who are breaking the biases that give rise to gender inequality, pushing against the harmful prejudices of women’s lack of bodily integrity or that men make better leaders than women as they meaningfully walk their own avenues of life, whether it be in business, teaching, or charity work.

Learn about who these powerful women’s heroines are, what barriers they’ve encountered because of their gender, and their most important advice for other women.

Ashley Dudarenok — China marketing expert

Ashley is a renowned China digital expert, entrepreneur, bestselling author. She’s a LinkedIn Top Voice in Marketing with 80,000 followers, a Holmes Report Asia’s Top 25 Innovator, and in 2021, she received the Women Leadership Award by IPWS and was named the Young Business Leader of the Year.

Ashley is the founder of a China-focused digital marketing agency Alarice and China digital consultancy ChoZan. Her top-rated YouTube vlog covers China’s tech, the Chinese consumers, new retail ecosystems and digital marketing. Ashley is a regular media contributor and has been interviewed by the BBC, the SCMP, Forbes, Bloomberg among others.

What does International Women’s Day mean to you?

It’s a day to celebrate women and unity, progress and strengths. In the Soviet Union, where I was born, 8th March was one of the top holidays of the year. People would celebrate women’s achievements in science, sport, work among others. We’d give flowers, cards and gifts to our mothers, teachers and each other, but most importantly that was a day of unity, love and celebration of progress. So it remains in my heart today.

What barriers or struggles have you experienced as a woman, in life or your career?

I’m fortunate to never have experienced barriers or struggles because I’m a woman. I had many ups and downs as a person and entrepreneur, but never those I could associate to my gender. Perhaps because I was conditioned to look beyond biases and focus on getting things done, rather than on barriers to getting things done. It’s hard to say. Likely, I’m just very fortunate to be a product of time, culture and upbringing where women were as empowered as men.

ashley dudarenok in hong kong
Ashley Dudarenok is an entrepreneur, author, and speaker on digital marketing in China

What does the idea of female power mean to you?

Strength and leadership, confidence and creation. In order to lead others, one must first lead herself. If something in your life and business isn’t working, work on yourself first. Any empowerment comes with a fundamental shift towards a better psychology. I find it crucial to teach women, girls, and all humans to use the power of psychology to shape better mindset. Female power is human power. Human power is in the fitness of our mindset and strength of the heart.

Who is your woman inspiration, and why?

I’m inspired by men and women alike, by animals, nature, animals and the grandness of the universe. Today I’m particularly inspired by the bravery, strengths and compassion of civilian Ukrainian women.

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

Building a successful business that bridges China and the West, empowers its team and brand and consumers we serve. For an entrepreneur, business is her contribution to the world, the way to serve the world on a different scale. I’m grateful and proud to have such a vehicle in my life too.

What’s the one piece of advice you would give to other women?

I don’t give advices to others, but if you ask me to share my experiences, the things that helps me most on my business journey are: being unafraid, working on my psychology, doing things faster, being genuine and transparent and having fun along the way.

Charlotte Tottenham — ImpactHK

charlotte tottenham impacthk

Charlotte Tottenham is a former journalist who works for homelessness charity ImpactHK. Her work as a writer, editor and documentary producer – as well as writing a philanthropy column for the Financial Times – has given her an interest in how people’s stories are told. Something she now brings to her work in the social impact space.

What does International Women’s Day mean to you?

For me, it should be a day for solidarity and allyship; we have a very long way to go and the more people we can bring into this conversation – however they might identify – the more progress we can make towards equality.

What barriers or struggles have you experienced as a woman, in life or your career?

Walking around all the cities I’ve lived in, London, Edinburgh, Delhi, Hong Kong, it has been commonplace to be harassed and heckled. Studies show that people who experience sexism were three times more likely to develop poor mental health over the following years.

In Hong Kong, it is more systemic; let’s not forget that the gender pay gap in Hong Kong is around 22% and paternity leave is a staggering 5 days. There are times when I find these odds wearing – to simultaneously be held back from succeeding – and other times, when I feel privileged and grateful that my barriers are microscopic in comparison to the vast mountains we placed in front of so many women.

impacthk teaching self defense homeless empowerment
ImpactHK works to support and empower Hong Kong’s homeless population

What does the idea of female power mean to you?

For me, female power is about using what autonomy and agency you have to advocate and make space for others. It’s also about doing what you can to redress the balance. For example I studied literature in university but the vast majority of our set texts were by male authors – so in 2020 I thought it was about time I absorbed some more female perspectives, and made it my new year’s resolution to only read books by women.

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Who is your woman inspiration, and why?

One of my heroines is a UK firefighter called Sabrina Cohen-Hatton. She actually experienced homelessness in her teens, living on the streets or between hostels for two years. Now she is one of only six female fire chiefs in the UK and uses her work in behavioural neuroscience to help inform better decision-making in the fire service.

I’m a strong believer in lived experience leadership – after all you cannot be what you cannot see – and I admire that she has become a leading voice in inspiring young women to become firefighters.

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

I moved to Hong Kong in 2019 without a job, but with my sights set on working for a homelessness nonprofit called ImpactHK that I had admired from afar. Its ethos really resonated with me and after volunteering for a few months, I persuaded the founder to give me a job. I built my team from the ground up and I’m exceptionally proud of the work we do together to help people overcome the experience of homelessness.

What’s the one piece of advice you would give to other women?

Learn about your own unconscious bias – the social stereotypes that form outside your conscious awareness. I consider myself a feminist, but I have still internalised a lot of society’s patriarchal nonsense.

Women being called bossy can be put down to the phenomenon of ‘likeability bias’, which is based on deep-rooted assumptions. We anticipate that men are going to be more assertive, so when they lead, it feels natural to us. We expect women to be community-minded and kind, so when they assert themselves we like them less. The good news is that when you start to become aware of it, you can unlearn this bias.

Jing Fang — Body confidence coach

jing fang authentic energy

Jing Fang is the founder of Authentic Energy personal transformation & body confidence coaching, focusing on helping women improve physical and mental well-being so they love themselves from the inside out. Born in China, raised in Australia, worked hard and played hard in Hong Kong for 10 years, Jing now lives in Vancouver, Canada.

After overcoming her own body image struggles, Jing decided to take on a body-positive and holistic coaching approach to empower women to cultivate a sustainable healthy and happy lifestyle, without stressing about diet, body comparison, fear of judgement, and an unhealthy relationship with food.

What does International Women’s Day mean to you?

IWD is a day to celebrate women from all backgrounds, our feminine energy, our achievements, and our power. It is a day for us to be extra loud and extra proud of who we are as women, to let more people be aware of women’s significance, that we are as powerful and capable and intelligent as men. In fact, every day is IWD to me, every day I am proud to be a woman, proud of other women in this world. Why do we only celebrate women that one day of the year?

What barriers or struggles have you experienced as a woman, in life or your career?

In my teenage years I was always told by male teachers or friends that I was too bold in expressing my opinions. As an Asian woman, people expected me to be conservative and keep my opinions to myself. When I was in a long term relationship in my 20s, I played small and never spoke of my needs and wants, afraid my boyfriend would leave me. The more insecure I became, the more disrespect I got. As a fitness coach, with the pressure of always having six pack abs, I struggled with serious body image issues which affected me emotionally, and I developed an unhealthy eating behavior.

jing fang fitness coach
Jing overcame the body image struggles associated with being a woman and fitness coach

What does the idea of female power mean to you?

Female power means being a graceful and gentle warrior. Power doesn’t necessarily mean that we have to dominate and be ready to fight all the time. It is the ability to be strong and confident, and also have that unique feminine tenderness and calmness to balance everything. It’s about having that beautiful Yin-Yang harmony. 

Who is your woman inspiration, and why?

My mother, without a doubt! She raised me by herself, and she never complained a word during hardship, always showing me how to live life to the fullest and explore the world whenever you can. She has travelled to more than 40 countries, and not even Covid can stop her!  I am so grateful that I have a mother who is also my best friend, who introduced me to personal development at a young age and taught me how to be emotionally and financially independent. Her lessons always stay with me, and she is the reason why I am never afraid of changes or moving my life to another country.

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

I’d have to say it’s allowing myself to change my career direction because I trusted my gut feeling and I wanted to be aligned with my mission and vision, instead of following what everyone else was doing, or what people expected from me.

What’s the one piece of advice you would give to other women?

#OODM! You will see this hashtag in my community and social media a lot. It stands for Other’s Opinions Don’t Matter. Learning how to not care about what other people think about you is such a crucial lesson for all women, because we tend to care too much about what others think of us! As a result of caring too much about what other people say about us, we give our power away, we stop being authentic and real, we start to people-please! The first step to reclaiming your power, and stepping up your confidence is to stop caring about what other people think of you. Next time when you catch yourself saying “I’m afraid that people are gonna think….” just close your eyes and say “OODM”.

Lilian Cruz — Domestic worker

lilian cruz domestic worker hong kong

Lilian Cruz is a foreign domestic worker from the Philippines who has lived in Hong Kong for over 30 years. During this time, she has worked for two families for 16 and 18 years respectively, raising their children and caring for their elderly members, while supporting her own family back home. Her daughter has now successfully immigrated to Canada.

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What does International Women’s Day mean to you?

I believe that this day commemorates all the sacrifices and suffering of women throughout time while also recognizing the efforts of women today. All year round there are certain holidays for certain causes and it is nice knowing there is a day dedicated to us, to learn about and also be celebrated for our successes and achievements.

What barriers or struggles have you experienced as a woman, in life or your career?

As women, we are always underestimated and perceived by society as inferior beings. We are judged worse or put in a double standard. But the worst experience I have been put through is not being taken seriously. We are constantly being talked over as if we cannot form opinions that can be respected. When we get upset, we are told we are overreacting. But I’ve realized we don’t need the approval of men or other people to feel validated.

What does the idea of female power mean to you?

Women’s power is having the ability to give birth to a new life. Women’s power is when a woman no longer feels that ‘she is just a girl’. When her existence is not determined by how well she outperforms men. When she no longer needs to prove that she can do everything that men can do. When her existence is independently whole in herself. God has given a lot of power to women.

Who is your woman inspiration, and why?

The most inspiring woman of my life is, of course, my mother. It is my mother who never left my hand no matter how angry, depressed, or hopeless I was. She held me, cried with me, and loved me at my worst. She never got irritated even if I kept crying one whole day, one whole month, one whole year. She is the reason why I have a positive outlook in life and fight to be better every day. I know every mother is the greatest warrior for her children, and my mother is the best example of it.

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

I am most proud that I was able to raise my two children on my own. Despite a lot of hardships I faced in life, and being far away from each other, we have built a lifelong relationship with each other that is priceless and that I will always treasure.

What’s the one piece of advice you would give to other women?

To always believe that you can do better every day. Improving is an everyday struggle but we are in control of how we live. We should always think of the positive side to lessen overthinking or heartaches. After all, we are women. We adjust, build, and maintain. We should be proud of our achievements and always strive to be happy.

Sarah Anderson — Teacher

sarah anderson teacher hong kong

Sarah Anderson came to Hong Kong from Minnesota, USA 6 ½ years ago. A teacher at an international school who has sent a majority of the last two years teaching virtually because of the pandemic, on the weekends you’re likely to see her on a hiking trail or jumping into a waterfall, having conquered the entire MacLehose Trail in three months – and you’re unlikely to see her without an iced coffee.

What does International Women’s Day mean to you?

International Women’s Day to me is a special day to remember where we came from as women, and look forward to where we want to go in the future. It’s a day to celebrate as well, all the wonderful women around us, who have been there to support us.

What barriers or struggles have you experienced as a woman, in life or your career?

I think mental health has been one of my biggest struggles in life. My anxiety stems from a place of caring too much about certain things that I can’t control. However, I also see this as a place of strength that I am brave enough to feel compassion this deeply for people.

What does the idea of female power mean to you?

Female power to me means being able to express yourself and feel comfortable and proud of who you are as a woman.

Who is your woman inspiration, and why?

I look up to Malala. I read her story a couple of years ago, and really admire how she was brave enough to fight for her education, even though it got quite dangerous for her at some points along the way. As a teacher I really value education, and believe it is essential for everyone to get a good education regardless of their gender.

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

I am most proud of the fact that I had the chance to teach all of the children I have taught in these past 6 ½ years. I am a kindergarten teacher, and I really love being able to teach children how to be kind to others, how to communicate with others, how to solve problems, and how to be a good leader. Some of the proudest moments in my life are when I see my students getting along well their classmates, helping each other out if another student is struggling, comforting or helping another student who is sad, etc.

What’s the one piece of advice you would give to other women?

Don’t be afraid to just be yourself, and love yourself. I spent a lot of my early twenties trying to wear the perfect outfit, and meet a cute guy on a night out with friends. All that time and effort never really paid off. I met my husband volunteering and doing something that I love – helping people. Now we are helping people side by side, and he loves me for who I am, not what I look like on the outside.

Sarah Vee — Founder of Women of Hong Kong

sarah vee women of hong kong

Sarah Vee is a Filipino solo-parent who founded Women of Hong Kong in 2021, a community of over 3,500 women that encourages members to connect, collaborate and create a safe and supportive space where women can thrive.

What does International Women’s Day mean to you?

The power we hold as women when we embrace what we’re truly capable of. We’re multifaceted – there’s so much proof in the past decade of what women have accomplished! International Women’s Day is an opportunity for us to reflect on that and inspire others to reach our highest potential.

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What barriers or struggles have you experienced as a woman, in life or your career?

I would never change anything about being a single mother, however I would encourage others to be more mindful and inclusive of solo parents at work and social circles. We carry a unique set of responsibilities. I don’t have the capacity to stay ‘overtime’ at work or attend Sunday brunch, but that doesn’t mean I don’t care to!

What does the idea of female power mean to you?

Women are more likely to be intuitive, creative, and integrative with a heightened emotional radar – the power comes with realizing that these traits can be our biggest advantage! Empathy is powerful, and I believe it can change the world.

Who is your woman inspiration, and why?

Sara Blakely because of her positivity, consistency and grit. (Editor’s note: Blakely is an American businesswoman who founded Spanx.) Embarrassment is the cost of entry, she paid the price in her early years and wasn’t afraid to look like a fool to get to where she is today. Also, I absolutely love how she treats the people within her business!

women of hong kong event
Women of Hong Kong brings 3,500 women together to make meaningful personal and business connections

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

Aside from my amazing 11-year-old boy and launching Women of Hong Kong, I’m proud of the level of self-awareness I’ve acquired in the last two years. I’m much more mindful about how I live my life, my shortcomings, and accepting what’s within my control. This has allowed me to reflect on my behaviors that influence my son’s growth, which is top priority. 

What’s the one piece of advice you would give to other women?

Breathe and let it go if it’s not within your control. Think of solutions and possibilities instead of spiraling into the “bad news” – it’ll save you the stress!

Shirley Johnson — Sustainable entrepreneur

shirley johnson entrepreneur

Shirley Johnson is CEO and artistic director of eco-friendly lifestyle brands Resolar and A New Leaf, founder of Radiance Within professional coaching services for women and pre- and post-natal mothers, and award-winning author of titles like “Cancer I Forgive You”, a story about the mindset shift Shirley had to make to reach a point of forgiveness and healing after her son’s brain cancer diagnosis in 2020.

What does International Women’s Day mean to you?  

It means that a big gap when it comes to equality between men and women remains. Hence such a day still has its raison d’être. Men and women aren’t the same, in many senses. However, both men and women ought to be given equal opportunities to allow their potential to maximise. And each individual, whether female or male, should be encouraged to shine as bright as possible.

What barriers or struggles have you experienced as a woman, in life or your career?

I majored in Japanese when I was at university. I started my working life with one of the top Japanese corporations in the world. I witnessed how a senior female manager was expected to serve tea at a meeting, while her junior male colleague fast-tracked his career and went to become her superior within one and a half years of my working there. Then when I became a mother, I realised that there was a serious inequal expectation between parents. Everything a father does for a child is a merit, while that by a mother is a given.

What does the idea of female power mean to you?

I think many people have a misconception about women empowerment. Many assume it is to put a female into a leadership role. Or help a female to build a career such that she is financially as ‘powerful’ as her male counterparts. To me, the ultimate ’empowerment’ is to gift her the belief that “she is enough” and she “deserves” just simply by being “her”.  In many cultures, still, just being born as a girl remains a ‘curse’ to her family. This is the kind of ’empowerment’ I am determined to gift my daughter, such that she will never have to seek external sources or ‘power’ to fill that void, because the power lies within her.

Who is your woman inspiration, and why?

Louise Hay, the motivational author of “Heal Your Body” and “You Can Heal Your Life” that has sold over 40 millions copies to date. I feel related to her as we both had very similar tough childhoods. I particularly find people inspiring when they rose from a place with no one to support, love, and believe in them but themselves. Her teachings about self-love have changed my life for the best. She left such a legacy, helping others to heal themselves, body, soul, and mind even long after she’s passed.  She inspired me to become a transformational coach. Like her, I want to help my clients heal the past and build a future they truly desire and deserve.

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

I remember very well how embarrassed and sad I felt at school whenever teachers asked us to bring baby and family photos to build a family tree. Because I had none. I did not know how I looked like as a baby, and the fact that no one loved me saddened me. To go from that to entirely embrace and love myself was the most challenging thing I’ve done to date and I am proud of it. Because of my capability to love myself, I was able to remain calm during my son’s brain cancer journey, relieved myself from the guilt that all parents in our situation would have, such that I could focus on my son’s and my own well-being during such difficult time.

What’s the one piece of advice you would give to other women?

The only opinion that matters is our own. Many women are consumed with worries about how others see them or what others would think of them. A very good example is the way they dress. I worked in the luxury industry for a decade, never managing to save a dime because I spent much on maintaining the glamourous façade I thought I had to keep up to hold my job. But in hindsight, nobody cared, because I did not care what my colleagues wore to work at all. The idea of others judging us buds from our own very mind.

Header image credits: Priscilla Du Preez via Unsplash

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Born in Canada, Danielle is deep diving into the things that make Hong Kong a city of intermingling identities, and bridging the information gap as someone trying to navigate the city herself as a cultural inbetweener. Sometimes this means examining culture and local people’s stories, and other times it means drinking all the milk tea and doing walking explorations of peripheral districts.

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