Don't get angry, get equal pay

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 07 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 07 July, 2012, 12:00am


Today's session is not about getting angry, but getting even - getting even pay,' said moderator Tara Joseph, executive producer at Thomson Reuters, at a panel organised by The Women's Foundation and the French Chamber of Commerce on the gender gap in pay.

Joseph set the tone for an informative, no-holds barred discussion by three panellists on why women in Hong Kong earn an average of 20 per cent less than men, and how they can act to rectify that pay deficit.

The statistics make for puzzling reading. While the majority of women in Hong Kong - about 55 per cent - have tertiary education, only 44 per cent make it to middle management positions, and just 8 to 9 per cent to board level.

Tracing those statistics back to entry-level positions helps to clarify how women fall behind in the pay rankings as they climb the corporate ladder. For example, in the financial services sector, the pillar of our economy, men and women usually start at the same pay as entry-level analysts.

'But very soon, you'll see the men outpacing the women,' said Farzana Aslam, director at Kintillo Employment Consultants and a member of the law faculty at the University of Hong Kong.

Speaking from the experience of a career spanning more than 30 years in investment banking, hedge funds and asset management, Elspeth Renshaw - a partner at Talent Partners who specialises in senior banking and financial services positions - said the pay differential is not due to some secret agreement among headhunters or human resources departments to pay women less.

A woman being interviewed for a senior position may well be offered a substantial increase on her current pay to lure her to the new company, but the increase is usually offered on a compensation level that is already significantly below that of her male counterparts, thus entrenching the pay differential, Renshaw said.

Resetting the balance will not happen automatically. Women need to fight to do it, and that means they need to learn to become stronger negotiators, she added. The key tools for successful negotiation are research, confidence and practice, panellists agreed.

Confidence in negotiating stems from believing that you are good enough to do the job, another area where men and women tend to differ.

Men, said Pattie Walsh, a partner at DLA Piper and head of its Asia-Pacific employment, pensions and benefits practice, tend not to worry about their possible inadequacies and instead focus on the positive aspects of their abilities.

Before you accept a position, be firm that you want to be paid at the same level as others who are doing the same job. 'Say, 'This is what I was paid for my former job, but that's not my starting point for negotiation,' ' said Aslam.