Wednesday, May 16, 2012

scmp: Mixed messages for gays in workforce


Mixed messages for gays in workforce

Most of the working population think it is unacceptable to discriminate against homosexual, bisexual or transgender employees - but a majority in the latter group say they feel discriminated against at work.

These findings, from two surveys, one of more than 1,000 employees at large and the other of almost 700 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) staff, were released yesterday to coincide with International Day Against Homophobia.

The polls were conducted between November and January for Community Business, a non-profit group that promotes corporate social responsibility.

One, the first of its kind on employee attitudes to LGBT colleagues, found more than 80 per cent believe it unacceptable to exclude the latter from social events or deny them a promotion based on their sexual orientation, while 68 per cent said they were "very much" or "somewhat" willing to work alongside them.

Almost 80 per cent think LGBT individuals do face work discrimination and 67 per cent hear people tell jokes against sexual minorities.

At the same time, 85 per cent of respondents to the survey of LGBT staff said a non-inclusive workplace had had a negative impact on them, 71 per cent said they had to lie about their personal lives and just over half said it was difficult to build authentic relationships with colleagues.

This does not appear a paradox to Professor Sam Winter, a University of Hong Kong academic specialising in transgender and sexuality studies.

"It only takes one person to make someone's life miserable," he said. "I can assure you just as there is discrimination against individuals, there is indirect discrimination against those who advocate on their behalf."

Winter said serious attention should be paid to the minority figures in the survey, which found that 35 per cent of the working population considered it unacceptable to give LGBT staff in a role where they meet customers, and 25 per cent said it was acceptable to not offer a job to such a person.

An Equal Opportunities Commission spokesman said the survey findings showed that sexual minorities "are still often treated as outcasts" at work. "Every one of us should have the freedom to be who we are irrespective of our sexual orientation and gender identity," he said.

Connie Chan Man-wai, of sexual-equality advocacy group the Women's Coalition of HKSAR, said it all came down to creating a safe and inclusive work environment.

"LGBT individuals have to know they won't lose their job if they come out and their boss will treat them the same as other colleagues," Chan said.

She said discrimination also needed to be more clearly defined, as many might see dismissal for sexual orientation as discrimination but not think a casual joke fell into the category.

scmp: Mind Frame


Mind Frame

Elaine Yau (
May 15, 2012

Mental treatments involving counselling and psychotropic drugs often leave patients with expensive medical bills. In coaching sessions with psychologists, patients have to recall traumatic events that precipitate their neuroses or phobias.
For those who baulk at the bills or the soul-baring chats with psychiatrists, a new type of therapy might be able to offer some fresh hope.

Cognitive bias modification (CBM), a form of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), has generated much buzz recently.

In recent years, researchers have been looking into how CBM helps those with social anxiety and substance abuse problems.

Professor Samuel Ho Mun-yin, from City University's department of applied social studies, is recruiting people for a large-scale study on how CBM can help people prone to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). These include children with chronic or life-threatening illnesses, people with a history of drug abuse or family violence and recovering schizophrenic patients.

"How people see and process trauma has to do with their personalities," says Ho. "Some focus on the good and develop resilience. Others fixate on the bad and keep thinking about bad experiences, which leads to PTSD. Our perception is affected by our attentional bias or automatic and unconscious bias."

Psychologist Colin MacLeod from the University of Western Australia is among the pioneers in CBM therapy. He developed the dot-probe test, where people view a computer screen on which positive (a smiling face), negative (a feral dog) or neutral (furniture) images are flashed briefly, adjacent to each other. After the images disappear, dots appear where one of the images was, and the person has to respond by pushing a button. People with anxiety consistently respond more quickly to dots that appear where the negative image was located.

Similar tests have recently been turned into smartphone apps.

It is assumed that if the viewer's attention is caught by the negative picture, he is likely to respond faster to the dot that appears in the same place because his attention is already fixed on that area of the screen.

After long sessions, psychologists can assess whether the player is predisposed to suffer social anxiety in a crowd of people, which might be the case if his attention subconsciously turns to a minority of hostile faces and ignores the pleasant faces around him.

Ho says a similar version of this dot-probe test is being developed for local patients, using Chinese words and pictures that have relevance to Hongkongers. "Both pictures and words can be used for the tests. We have compiled a list of 60 Chinese words, with positive, neutral and negative meanings. We are looking for pictures with a local context."

Ho says the exercise can be also configured to snap people's eyes away from the part of the screen that shows negative images. "Our brain is adaptable, and repeated exercises over a long period can condition it to break bad habits."

In similar exercises used by Western psychologists to treat people with anxiety, the dots always flash in locations where neutral or positive images appear.

In a study conducted by the University of Amsterdam published in Psychological Science last year, more than 200 alcoholics who were at least three weeks out of detox were recruited. Half the participants did four 15-minute CBM sessions on four consecutive days. This consisted of deliberately pushing the joystick in reaction to pictures of beer, whisky and so forth (literally and figuratively pushing the temptation away), and pulling the joystick in response to pictures of soft drinks. The control subjects had no training or sham training sessions. Researchers found that a year later, 46 per cent of CBM group had relapsed, compared to 59 per cent of the control group.

Researchers at Tel Aviv University are examining whether there's a connection between cognitive biases and PTSD in American and Israeli soldiers. Ho's study on 170 local breast cancer patients, published in Psycho-Oncology last year, showed that those with attentional bias were more likely to dwell on their traumatic cancer experience and develop PTSD.

In spite of all the buzz surrounding CBM, Wong Chee-wing, clinical psychologist and chairman of the Chinese Association of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, has doubts about the whole idea.

"There's little evidence to show that CBM can treat anxiety," he says. "Attentional bias is just one of the myriad factors that can lead to mental disorders. Anxiety is caused by many things, like a patient's personality traits and upbringing. The whole CBM concept is based on a simple premise that patients are attracted to sad images while ignoring happy faces. The idea that you can play a phone app for two hours to get your condition treated is immature."

Wong adds that CBM is yet to be incorporated into standard treatment guidelines, such as those for Britain's National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence. CBM is a nascent field without rigorous clinical trials, says Wong, but CBT has a wealth of research and clinical data to support its efficacy.

"Computerised CBT sessions are not games like those CBM apps. When we use CBT to treat [anxiety] patients, we train them to evaluate the probability of bad things happening. Other techniques are used to help them avoid exaggerating dangers. There is computer-assisted CBT for self-learning. But the role of therapists is not excluded - they have online chats with patients."

Even MacLeod told The Economist last year that CBM is not quite ready for general use. He said that there should be more large, long-term, randomised clinical trials to show the effects of CBM.

Clinical psychologist Michelle Chan Wing-chiu says CBM can go hand in hand with traditional treatments.

"Though CBM development is still in its infancy, research has shown a proven link between bias and anxiety. Computerised practices can train the brain to break bad habits. However, at this stage, we cannot tell how long the effects will last and whether those effects will hold under all circumstances, including stressful situations."

Ho says ordinary people who are not diagnosed with mental ailments can use it to boost their resilience.

"How we perceive or interpret things has to do with our subconscious thinking, which contains biases we are not aware of. By zooming in on the biases, CBM has the potential to boost the treatment of mental problems."

Monday, May 14, 2012

REUTERS: Fewer women in top U.S. tech jobs since 2010: survey

True? "Women also face the "preconceived notion" that they are focused on other priorities like starting a family. That bias is damaging to IT departments because many struggle to find qualified workers."

Fewer women in top U.S. tech jobs since 2010: survey

By Nick Zieminski

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The number of women in senior technology positions at U.S. companies is down for the second year in a row, according to a survey published on Monday.

Nine percent of U.S. chief information officers (CIOs) are female, down from 11 percent last year and 12 percent in 2010, according to the survey by the U.S. arm of British technology outsourcing and recruitment company Harvey Nash Group.

About 30 percent of those polled said their information technology (IT) organization has no women at all in management. Yet only about half of survey respondents consider women to be under-represented in the IT department.

Although women have reached senior positions at Facebook, Xerox, IBM, Oracle and other large companies, they are absent at the top of many IT departments. That makes it hard to draw others to senior roles.

"Less and less women are attracted into that space so you wind up creating a self-fulfilling prophecy," said Anna Frazzetto, senior vice president of international technology solutions, at Harvey Nash USA. "It's not a very welcoming arena to be in."

Women also face the "preconceived notion" that they are focused on other priorities like starting a family. That bias is damaging to IT departments because many struggle to find qualified workers.

The survey, conducted with TelecityGroup, included responses from 450 U.S. technology leaders. It is part of a wider, global survey that found increasing tech budgets and more visible roles for CIOs.

A majority of those surveyed said their organization is facing a skills shortage in areas such as business analysis and project management.

"The skills shortage is the biggest it's ever been, and it's going to cause companies to get a little more creative in shifting the culture of organizations," Frazzetto said.

That shift is already taking place at small companies, but large ones have yet to change their culture, she said.

While the U.S. average of 9 percent female CIOs has declined, it is higher than the global average of 7 percent, Harvey Nash found.

(This story has been corrected after the company revised figure in final paragraph to 7 percent, from 3 percent.)

(Reporting by Nick Zieminski in New York; Editing by Jan Paschal)

Sunday, May 13, 2012

scmp: Accidental hero of HK$6,000 handouts


Accidental hero of HK$6,000 handouts

A man who spent his HK$6,000 government handout on buying food for Hong Kong's hungry has accidentally created a new movement to help the city's poor.

Benson Tsang Chi-ho was making a simple personal protest against the government's decision to give all permanent residents cash instead of using the money to help the people he believed really needed it.

He used his money to buy tins of food and hot meals from small, independent stores and restaurants in Sham Shui Po to feed the local poor.

A few of his friends decided to join in, using their HK$6,000 "as it should be used - back into the community".

Tsang, an interior designer, posted some pictures of their efforts on Facebook and then arranged some other "people's handouts" using the social network site.

The turning point came in February, after a government clean-up operation swooped without warning on street sleepers in Sham Shui Po. Their belongings, including bedding, identity cards, phones and clothes were confiscated and thrown away.

Tsang said: "I got so mad about it I started ranting on Facebook. That night, I brought clothes down to Sham Shui Po for [the street sleepers] but they were nowhere to be seen. It was really cold that night."

His outrage saw his actions gather momentum and now, a year and two months since the first "action" last March, 150 to 180 people gather once a month to try to make a difference. Most of them have never met each other before. And as of yesterday, 678 people had indicated on Facebook that they were taking part in the next of their planned events.

Tsang said: "It's completely decentralised and anonymous. No one needs to commit and everyone's encouraged to bring the idea back to their own neighbourhoods, or start their own actions."

Tsang said the aim wasn't just to "feed the poor" but to change the way people see others and to realise how powerful one's decisions can be.

"This is not about being sympathetic - we don't need that. It's about sharing. We are trying to rebuild community and relationships within a neighbourhood," he said.

Nise Sou Lai-sim, who does community development work in a church and has become a regular participant, said: "We don't raise funds, we don't need commitment, we have minimal organisation.

"Rather, we hope this experience will create bridges between people of different backgrounds.

"Our aim is to bring back the sense of neighbourly friendliness which Hong Kong has lost."

Sou became involved last October - at which time about 40 people were taking part - after coming across Tsang's Facebook posting about a "mooncake event", where the group was giving out 800 mooncakes which had been donated.

On Christmas Eve, she added, about 100 people turned up. She said talking to store owners, street sleepers, the elderly or cubicle dwellers was just as important as giving out food. "When you talk to people, your heart will change," she added.

She said it was also important to spend donations within the community itself. "If we buy cans of food from ParknShop and Wellcome, then the meaning is lost.

"This exercise is actually about bringing awareness. I changed the way I see, and so changed the way I consume.

"We want participants to realise this," added Sou, who said the movement had also spread to To Kwa Wan and Kowloon City.

Cyrus Hu Kwok-chum, who joined for the first time in December, said the initiative had made him aware of where food was made, and who would benefit from the money he spent.

"My eyes were opened," he added, saying he now counted street sleepers, local store and restaurant owners as well as the people collecting cardboard among his friends.

Hu works for a food import and export company and his bosses now donate food and drink which is close to their sell-by date and therefore cannot be sold to supermarkets.

Another participant Ban Chung Wing-sze, who works in publishing, was moved to act a year ago after seeing Tsang's pictures of elderly people collecting cardboard to sell in order to be able to eat that night.

"I was looking for a way to serving people, and saw that this was a good one," she said.

Tsang said 80 per cent of the people who indicated they would come to an event turned up.

Without a structure, Tsang said, he had named what was happening an "equal sharing initiative".

There are now around 20 people who help put together events.

The next one climaxes on May 26 and is all about "rediscovering your little neighbourhood stalls".

People are being asked to purchase five to 10 cans of food from different small, local shops, label them with the stores' addresses and paste pictures on Facebook.

On May 26 in Sham Shui Po, which has the lowest average household income in the city, participants will swap the cans of food then return to their own districts to hand out the tins to the local needy, said Tsang.

"We will create a network and map of all the local surviving stores all around the city, supporting them, while using our money to ultimately support the needy," added the man who started it all.

Monday, May 7, 2012

scmp: Developers step up pressure over bill on flat sales


Developers step up pressure over bill on flat sales

Developers want the government to remove two key components of a bill to regulate the sale of new homes, which their lawyers say are unconstitutional.

The call by the Real Estate Developers Association comes as members of a panel studying the bill rush to finish their clause-by-clause scrutiny to get it through before the legislature's term ends in July.

Association secretary general Louis Loong Hon-biu said the two disputed measures - a requirement to publish price lists before sale and a ban on quoting gross floor area to describe flat sizes - should be removed because of the rush.

He said the bill could be split in two parts, with the undisputed clauses legislated on first and the others added later after revision.

But bill committee member Democrat Lee Wing-tat said he objected to any separation "because the two measures are the key elements, without which the law would be meaningless".

The Transport and Housing Bureau said it had no plans to legislate the bill in phases and aimed to complete the legislation in the current term.

Loong said the association made the suggestion after consulting constitutional law expert David Pannick QC and two other lawyers on the bill.

"We are not against legislation, but we want to make sure it is a good law in compliance with the Basic Law and human rights," he said.

According to a 24-page joint opinion by Pannick and Tristan Jones, both from London's Blackstone Chambers, and Wilson Leung from Temple Chambers in Hong Kong, the price-list rule would place a restriction on a developer's right to dispose of its property, and amending the price list could also "create confusion and obfuscation rather than transparency".

The ban on gross floor area in advertisements and brochures would violate freedom of speech, a right to be upheld even in the context of commercial advertising, the lawyers said.

They referred to a 2008 Court of Appeal case in which a doctor successfully challenged the Medical Council's restrictions on doctors' rights to advertise their practice.

The developers disagree with the government view that gross floor area - with a share of common areas in the development added to the actual size of the flat - is misleading to buyers.

"We don't want to delay the bill, but there should be enough time to examine the bill carefully," Loong said.

He added that a standardised definition of gross floor area should be written into the bill first.

He said it was premature to say whether the association would seek a judicial review if the bill was passed unchanged and took effect next year.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

scmp: Power transfer system means no more cables

點解Prof. Ron Hui離開左城大?

Power transfer system means no more cables

Refrigerators with no power cords and mobile phones that can be charged though a wall are on the way thanks to a wireless power transfer system developed by University of Hong Kong researchers.

Wireless transfer based on electrodynamic induction - where electricity passes from one device to another without any direct connection as in a rechargeable electric toothbrush - has been around for years. But until now it was possible only over short distances.

The system devised by Ron Hui Shu-yuen, chair professor of power electronics at the university, and Lee Chi-kwan, assistant professor of electrical and electronic engineering, can transmit power over what they term a medium range of a few metres.

The electricity travels through an electromagnetic coupling between a series of resonating coils arranged in domino-like patterns that allow flow to be reversed or even split into branches with little power loss.

"With the multiple coils system, electricity passes through distance as in a relay [race]," Hui said. "We can easily charge a mobile phone or supply power to the television next door through the wall."

When the system was patented by Serbian-American inventor Nikola Tesla more than a century ago, it was assumed it would work only between two coils, limiting the distance over which it could be used. But the team found a way of making the power travel from coil to coil. Hui - who also invented the first universal wireless battery charging plate for hand-held electronic products in 2005 - said the new system would be useful in sites such as heritage buildings where drilling was not allowed.

Even over longer distances, efficiency could be kept at 80 per cent.

As the electromagnetic coupling was not radioactive, there were no health risks even when used throughout an entire house.

The theory has been peer-reviewed and was published in the latest volume of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers' journal Transactions on Power Electronics last month.

Hui said his team had patented part of the research and the project had been granted about HK$1 million from the government's Innovation and Technology Fund to extend the transmission distance and improve efficiency of the system.

"If it works like it does in theory, we may transmit electricity wirelessly even between continents," he said.