What women really, really want

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 26 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 26 May, 2012, 12:00am


If a job is done well, it should make no difference whether the employee is male or female, and they should be rewarded with the same pay for the same work. It sounds like an argument based on indisputable logic, and yet the issue of the gender gap in pay is still unresolved in many countries.

Hong Kong has dealt with the issue less successfully than most. According to figures from the Census and Statistics Department report, Women and Men in Hong Kong - Key Statistics 2011, the city's official gender pay gap stands at an average of 20 per cent, which means that women are being paid 20 per cent lower than men in the same job type and position.

This figure is 4 per cent higher than the global average, based on the International Trade Union Confederation's gender pay gap March 2012 report, Frozen in Time.

Closer inspection shows that significant gaps in pay exist at different professional levels. In research based on 2011 data, the consulting firm Mercer unearthed some interesting figures.

At the lower levels of the career ladder, in a category Mercer calls 'para professionals' - which includes, for example, secretaries - women in Hong Kong are paid 15 per cent more than men. That may be partly because of women's superior educational achievements and their tendency to stay put in these kinds of roles for longer than average periods, which may entitle them to pay increments based on tenure.

Women are more likely than men to stay in a role even if they are not happy, says Kate Bravery, Hong Kong business leader, human capital consultant at Mercer, who says these are 'good results, but not necessarily for good reasons'.

In higher-level roles, the pay gap between men and women is about 18 per cent when calculated based on base pay, and up to 23 per cent when benefits are included. In one senior role assessed by Mercer - head of human resources - there is a 23 per cent difference in the pay between men and women.

These disparities, and how to close the gap, were discussed at a panel held by The Women's Foundation and the French Chamber on May 18.

Panellists included Lam Woon-kwong, chair of the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC), Kate Bravery, and Lelia Konyn, group human resources director at the Noble Group.

The event was moderated by Kay McArdle, board chair of The Women's Foundation and a former lawyer specialising in employment and discrimination law.

The issue is not just about the amounts of difference in pay, but also about the scale of the problem, says Su-mei Thompson, the foundation's CEO.

'We know so many people [...] who have encountered discrimination,' she said, to widespread agreement among the audience of mainly professional women.

Thompson suggested that Hong Kong's commitment to free market economics partly accounts for employers' attitude that there is nothing wrong in paying staff what you can get away with.

'The other issue for women is getting hold of the data. Most women don't realise they are getting paid less than their male counterparts because companies aren't transparent about pay scales,' she said.

Although the EOC is working to bring more employers to account in court, Lam said few gender pay discrimination cases are brought before it.