China property

Hong Kong’s property companies can do better when it comes to workplace flexibility for women

China and Hong Kong’s real estate industries have the largest concentration of women staff in Asia-Pacific, but they lag behind on some important areas when it comes to workplace flexibility and benefits

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 11 July, 2017, 3:41pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 11 July, 2017, 8:11pm

China and Hong Kong property companies have some of the largest concentrations of women employees in Asia-Pacific, however their working conditions are less flexible than their peers in the region, according to new research.

Among the Asia-Pacific region, Australia, China, Hong Kong, and Singapore have the highest female employee ratio in the real estate sector, according to a survey carried out in early June and July by the Urban Land Institute and professional services firm EY.

In spite of the high participation rate, the largest barrier to women succeeding in the industry is the conflict they face between work and family commitments, the survey found.

Of the 280 women surveyed, about half said they felt constrained by the challenge of balancing family and work. In Hong Kong, 60 per cent of respondents cited the factor as an obstacle.

“These findings illustrate that while companies are good at bringing women into the industry, the challenge lies in keeping women employed long-term”, said Serena Wolfe, women’s leadership initiative research committee chairman of the Urban Land Institute.

Half of all those surveyed said family leave and workplace flexibility were critical to the success of women. But 61 per cent of China, Hong Kong and Singapore employees said they do not receive day-to-day workplace flexibility, nor generous or flexible maternity and familial leave. In comparison, only 49 per cent of respondents in Australia said workplace flexibility and leave was inadequate.

Hong Kong companies have been slow to implement change, the report said.

Hong Kong’s policy on maternity leave, which grants 10 weeks at 80 per cent pay to women who have been employed on a continuous contract for at least 40 weeks, has long been criticised for lagging behind the International Labour Organization’s standards for at least 14 weeks of maternity leave.

“Hong Kong introduced employment legislation supporting equal rights for women many years ago, and the typical perception is that nothing else needs to be done in this arena,” the report said.

In contrast, the report cited Shanghai-based property developer Powerlong as an example that some mainland companies have been forward-looking in improving working conditions to retain female employees.

The company recently installed on-site nursery services for mothers, breastfeeding facilities, and an organic garden for nutrition planning.

“Real estate is still a man’s world,” said Powerlong vice president Lv Cuihua. “But at Powerlong, women are finding their place in driving our core business.”

Lv is one of three women among the 15 executive managers of the company. She was cited as an example of a female executive who has risen to the upper ranks in the real estate industry.

The report showed women in Singapore and Australia tended to have higher career expectations, whereas women in Hong Kong and China had a more modest view on how high they would be able to ascend within an organisation.

In Singapore and Australia, 58 per cent and 62 per cent of women surveyed said they had their sights set on a top management position. In Hong Kong, the figure was only 44 per cent of women surveyed, while in China the figure was 23 per cent.

“Companies should focus on fostering women’s career growth and providing incentives and support to continue working in the industry throughout all stages of their lives,” the report said.