Gender equality

Achieving equality needs concrete steps

More family-friendly measures and institutional safeguards in career development are needed if women are to achieve equality in the workplace

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 30 September, 2018, 12:16am
UPDATED : Sunday, 30 September, 2018, 12:16am

Hong Kong does not seem like a bad example when it comes to gender equality. With women well represented in public office, including the city’s first female chief executive, Hong Kong is arguably a model of equality. However, this is just a slice of the truth. The dominance of men in the workplace remains an issue.

A case in point is academia. According to figures obtained from the University Grants Committee, it appears that female academics face hurdles rising through the ranks. Only 18.8 per cent of senior academic staff at the city’s eight publicly funded universities are women, compared to 33.7 per cent in the lower ranks. The imbalance is less obvious among technical research and academic support staff such as tutors and teaching assistants. The trend is reversed in administrative and other positions, with two in three being women.

The situation should not come as a surprise. With the figures similar to those in overseas universities and other professions, this is just a reflection of male dominance in key positions worldwide. Nonetheless, it says something when the glass ceiling remains an issue in a domain as liberal as universities.

Where are the women? 4 in 5 senior academics in Hong Kong are male

The reality is that female academics are just facing the same family responsibilities and social expectations experienced by all women. Moving up the university hierarchy is even more challenging, as this sometimes involves taking up year-long scholarships or fellowships overseas to help build up one’s profile and international stature.

The problem may be aggravated by the so-called unconscious bias. Even though there may not be explicit discrimination on the grounds of gender or family status, the dominance of men in positions of hiring and promotion means there may be preconceptions in the evaluation of women’s work performance; hence their opportunities in gaining appointments and receiving promotions.

Awareness is the first step to rectify the situation. But for women to be equally accepted alongside men in the workplace, more concrete action is needed. That means going beyond publicity and education to put in place more family-friendly measures and institutional safeguards in career development. Hopefully, we can truly set a good example in gender equality in the future.