Make workplaces family friendly
Efforts to fight discrimination on the grounds of sex have come a long way in Hong Kong. Thanks to decades of public education and better laws to protect them, women are arguably less vulnerable to discrimination nowadays than they used to be. We aspire to give them equal opportunities at work without compromising the need for them to fulfil family duties. As a result, better safeguards such as paid maternity leave and protection against dismissal during pregnancy have been put in place.
But it takes more than legislation to achieve equal rights for working women. A recent report in this paper showed the pressure and difficulties faced by working mothers. Although the Sex Discrimination Ordinance protects pregnant employees against sacking or other unfair treatment, it is not uncommon for bosses to fire them on other grounds when they return from maternity leave, according to a feminist group. For instance, the employee may be moved to a different position and soon dismissed on the grounds that they are not competent to meet the demands of the new job. If the problem is as common as claimed, the authorities should follow up the cases and review the law.
A more effective approach is to tackle the root of the problem. Discrimination stems from prejudice. It is imperative to change the mindset of employers. A survey by workplace-services provider Regus early this year found that only one in three Hong Kong companies was willing to employ working mothers. Bosses were worried that women could not offer the same commitment after giving birth. The findings provide little comfort for working women. The need for attitudinal change is urgent.
For a start, companies should be encouraged to adopt more family-friendly policies, such as allowing mothers to work part-time or take extended no-pay leave to take care of a newborn. Women are just as good as, if not better than, men at many jobs; it would be a loss if they could not stay in the workforce because of workplace discrimination.