Big companies reveal sex bias

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 08 October, 1995, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 08 October, 1995, 12:00am


BIG companies have admitted the sex of candidates is an issue when it comes to recruitment, but equality is low on their list of priorities, a survey has revealed.

An applicant's gender is a decisive factor in selecting and recruiting staff, according to the survey conducted by Chinese University researchers.

Concerns about child-care facilities, equal opportunities and sexual harassment are virtually non-existent.

More than 200 companies with staff lists in excess of 200 were surveyed on issues of sex and work by the university's Department of Management.

More than 52 per cent of companies said they would specify the sex of required candidates when posting job vacancy advertisements.

For clerical and secretarial jobs, 82.8 per cent would specify sex, compared to 23.8 per cent who would do so for professional jobs, or 21.1 per cent for senior managerial posts.

Sex was also used as a specific selection criteria by 55.9 per cent of the respondents.

A senior lecturer at the department, Dr Robert Westwood, said the results were 'quite an indictment'.

'These are larger, more sophisticated companies. Over 50 per cent of larger companies are quite prepared to openly specify gender. It's very significant,' he said. 'And there are certain occupations which are still fairly gender-specific in people's minds.' 'It means there are assumptions being made about capabilities according to gender. Selection is supposed to be about matching criteria to future performance.' Dr Westwood said in countries such as Britain and the United States it was illegal to advertise jobs with a specific sex in mind, or to ask candidates their marital status.

The survey showed 100 per cent of respondents required applicants to provide information about their marital status.

'Hong Kong is lagging in terms of a legalistic framework, and the absence of a legal protective framework puts women in a precarious situation,' Dr Westwood said. 'If Hong Kong ever gets into a recessionary situation, women may be more vulnerable.' All the companies said they did not provide child-care facilities, a revelation which shocked the survey's authors and women's groups.

'This is particularly dire. It's extremely rare for companies to provide any facilities,' Dr Westwood said.

'Government care is not sufficient; private is expensive for some people. There have been quite a few cases of children being left alone. This isn't going to help.

'Hong Kong companies . . . see child care as a cost, not a way of attracting good staff, or keeping up staff morale.' Association of Business and Professional Women president Anne Godfrey said the lack of facilities 'stands out like a sore thumb'.

'This and the other issues just goes to show how much the Sexual Discrimination Ordinance is needed and the Government should not delay in bringing it into operation,' she said.

Only 19 per cent of companies polled have official and stated policies on equal opportunity, and a mere 15.5 per cent have policies and sets of guidelines for handling cases of sexual harassment.

'There seems to be a particular widespread non-acceptance that sexual harassment is an issue,' Dr Westwood said.

There was only a 20 per cent return rate on the survey but, on the positive side, 13.3 per cent of companies said they provided paternity leave.

'It's an interesting statistic,' Dr Westwood said. 'But paternity leave could just refer to a day or so.'