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Gender equality

How Hong Kong’s parental leave policy deepens the bias against hiring women

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 28 August, 2018, 6:02am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 28 August, 2018, 2:08pm

Equal parental leave is an important step in solving gendered hiring bias in Hong Kong. As reported in your paper, recent research by the Equal Opportunities Commission has showed widespread gender bias among those responsible for hiring in Hong Kong firms (“Half of Hong Kong employers do not want to hire women with children, study finds”, August 23).

Much of this bias appears to be motivated by the perception among employers that women will take on a greater share of child-rearing responsibilities and thus have less time to focus on their career.

Regardless of whether it is true, this belief is reinforced by official Hong Kong parental leave policies. By granting women 10 weeks of parental leave, while only granting men three days, the current leave regime creates perverse incentives that reward biased hiring practices.

Those in charge of hiring decisions can know for sure that, although men and women are equally likely to become parents, if and when this occurs, fathers will only be out of the office for a few days, whereas mothers will miss months of work.

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Other jurisdictions have responded to this policy failure by instituting “use it or lose it” paternal leave, which incentivises fathers to take similar amounts of parental leave as mothers.

Not only does this have the effect of more equally distributing family responsibilities, it removes the institutionalised rational biases that contribute to women’s marginalisation in the workforce (“What Hong Kong can do to help women at work”, March 3).

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If men are just as likely to take parental leave as women, that distinction is taken out of the equation when hiring decisions take place.

This is not to say that equalising parental leave will solve all of the underlying biased hiring practices in Hong Kong. However, doing so is a simple and proven policy that can help ameliorate gendered hiring biases and should be given strong consideration by Hong Kong policymakers.

Dr Ryan Whalen, assistant professor, Faculty of Law, University of Hong Kong