by Simon Gallagher, Director at Integrated Design Asia

The Buildup or An Unexpected Journey

Hong Kong has a reputation as a business-oriented city, and a place where time is money and things happen fast. Hong Kong’s inaugural WIB event, planned for the 7th of March 2024, was no different.

During the February monthly WIB regional lead meeting the regional lead for Thailand, Benyatip, suggested a date for speakers to present followed by a round table discussion, and to be held in Bangkok. This idea was expanded upon and the notion for a sort of hybrid regional event materialised, where similar networking opportunities occurred at the same time across the region. Hong Kong was on board with the idea and started to put a plan together. However, time had moved on and the window to organise anything and still expect it to be a success was rapidly closing. “At least a month for marketing” would be needed, we were told. Despite having only two weeks to arrange and market the event, it was decided to proceed regardless in order to align with Bangkok and International Women’s Day. And so, with the genuine fear of a flop hanging over us, the event sponsor (Integrated Design Limited) put together a small but dedicated team. The race was on to confirm the venue, confirm the speakers and get invitations sent out.

A mammoth effort was put in to raise awareness via LinkedIn, and other social media, prior to the event. Confirmed attendees were implored to invite their colleagues, and personal favours were sought from friends and family in order to get the word out there and hit our desired target audience of 50 people. Finally, the day of the inaugural WIB event came around. Having done all we could in advance, now there was nothing left to do but wait for our guests to arrive.

The Event or The Desolation of AmCham

As more and more people arrived, by the planned start time of 5:30pm the venue was looking (and sounding) fairly crowded. A few additional minutes were allowed for guests to grab some food and a drink and take their seats, as well as giving latecomers a chance to get seated before the event started. Finally, by 5:45pm things were set in motion by my welcome address. I covered the basic questions of why I am personally involved in WIB, and what WIB is. I also introduced the WIB Mentoring Scheme, including some eyebrow raising facts about its growth since being started just a few years ago. Having had a chance to see each speaker’s presentation material a couple of days before the event, I had (mostly) successfully managed to segue my introduction into topics each speaker would cover, so as to generate a smooth flow to the overall event. Or so I hoped anyway.

My introduction complete, I handed over to Alexandra who proceeded to impress us all with her corporate presentation skills. She covered her founding of and early involvement in the Women in Gammon (WinG) network, advocating for greater diversity, openness and equality in the workplace. All very commendable goals. She left us with the catchy maxim of, “if you can’t see it, you can’t be it” in reference to the crucial impact positive role models have on minority groups.

Following on from Alexandra, we had Han Hsi of the Taiwan BIM Association and The University of Hong Kong (HKU). She talked about the gender balance in higher education, how she practices what she preaches (by running a studio populated with 60% females) and how “leaning in” by peers earlier in a career may help to level the playing field somewhat, further down the line. 

Finally, it was the turn of Ar Prof Ada Y S Fung BBS FHKIA FCIOB to take the stage, giving perspective from her many years in the civil service and explain all those letters after her name, which she did, later on. However, first of all she told us of her dream, all the way back in 2009, to integrate BIM and GIS. She went on to prove such an audacious claim by name dropping both the former CEO of Autodesk, Carl Bass, and the former president of ESRI, Jack Dangermond, plus she had photographs standing with each of them. It could not be denied! Such long sightedness led on to early involvement with buildingSMART, finally culminating in the creation of Hong Kong’s chapter in October 2019. And the rest, as they say, is history.

With the presentations complete, there was time for a networking break. Guests spilled back into the kitchen area and helped themselves to the generous spread of drinks and snacks. At this point I was notified that the final number of guests was just over 60, so we had managed to reach our target and then some. Having been previously dissuaded from holding the event at short notice, this came as something of a relief as well as vindication for sticking to our guns and going ahead as we did. As an inaugural event, this was always intended to be a first step not a final destination.

With some gentle coaxing, guests were encouraged to retake their seats for the panel discussion. Each speaker was given three questions, which were broken down into categories according to the nature of the speaker’s role: Alexandra – corporate, Han Hsi – higher education and Ada – governance/civil service. Alexandra’s three questions focussed on her educational background, and whether it was important to be formally qualified in a construction related discipline (i.e. architecture and engineering) in order to work in construction (it is not, and in fact diversity benefits decision making), whether equality, openness or a sense of belonging are the most important (they are all equally important), and whether her work with WinG will ever result in gender equality being achieved (it’s a work in progress). Han Hsi was asked about the level of demand for digital skills in higher education (very high), diversity policy at HKU (there are comprehensive policies in place), and the question of whether or not institutes of higher education are able to evolve rapidly enough to cope with rapidly changing society and technology (yes, it is challenging). Finally, Ada was asked about the accessibility and availability of digital skills training for people in Hong Kong, particularly at grassroots level (through the CIC there are subsidised courses), whether concepts such as openBIM and WIB’s diversity goals are aligned (they are, as both respond to interoperability for software and human resources respectively), and then the most tricky question of all; having climbed so high in the ranks of the Hong Kong civil service, have sacrifices had to be made in terms of delaying or putting off starting a family in order to progress in one’s career (it has been possible to balance all, according to Ada). Rather cheekily, I did add in the observation that women in Hong Kong may have an advantage over their European counterparts, in that it is common for families in Hong Kong to employ a domestic helper thus allowing a mother to seek full time employment.

With the panel discussion complete, there was now time for more networking and for guests to freely mingle and enjoy the remainder of the evening.

The Conclusion or The Battle of the Broken Toilet

The event complete and basking in the warm, happy glow of a job well done, the organising team did all the compulsory high-fives and back slapping associated with anything American, followed by the equally mandatory reserved understatement from the Brits in the team; “well done everyone”.

It was universally agreed that the venue, the American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) Community Hub, was a very nice space in which to hold networking events. AmCham staff were welcoming, helpful and attentive throughout the evening. The food and drink choice and quantity were well judged. The audio visual equipment worked flawlessly. But there was one exception; the male toilet broke and was closed for part of the evening. Faintly ironic, given the gender of most of the audience.

A big thank you to Jason Chong for the tremendous effort in making the event such a success, and to the event sponsors, Integrated Design Limited and CIAT Hong Kong Centre. WIB is a charity, and as such relies upon sponsors for funding and the regional leads who give their time for free. Thank you all, and from this first successful event we hope to go on to have many more!

JOIN / LOGIN