Outdated attitudes about working women persist

Jennifer Ngo
Oct 14, 2011

Hong Kong may boast of being a modern world city with liberal and open views, but a recent survey suggests it is still highly traditional when it comes to women’s rights – especially in the workplace.

According to the Women’s Commission poll, over half of 3,000 respondents said “women should focus more on family than work” and 39 per cent agreed that “men’s job is to earn money while women’s job is to do household work and take care of the family”.

“An overwhelming amount of people – old and young, male and female – still think women should give up their careers and stay home to take care of family members, raise the children and do the housework. Women are still stereotyped as better at these things, and not as good at others,” said Dr Liu Ngar-fun, executive committee member of the Federation of Women’s Centres.

Susanne Choi Yuk-ping, associate professor and director of the Gender Research Centre at Chinese University, said such attitudes led to discriminatory practices.

Women make up about 46 per cent of the city’s workforce. And yet, says Choi: “Hong Kong places many limits on women” with its traditional views, which turn into discrimination at the workplace.

About 70 per cent of respondents said being a woman would hinder job promotion.

While it is illegal to treat an employee less favourably based on gender, the survey found 70 per cent think men are better paid than women in the same position.

Most people surveyed (70 per cent) also believe there is a “glass ceiling” that holds women back from advancement.

The commission cited data from the census department that said men held 70 per cent of the management and administration positions in 2009.

The commission’s poll found that 70 per cent thought employers still declined to hire people who are unable to work overtime because of the need to look after family members.

Twenty-seven per cent said sexual harassment against female employees was common in the workplace.

The Women’s Commission, established by the government in 2001, conducted the survey early last year, and released the findings in three parts. The 3,002 respondents included 1,299 men and 1,703 women.

Liu said family was a major reason many women were unable to work, and that married women tended to be treated less favourably in the workplace.

Choi said the bias was deeply rooted and needed to be changed. For example, if companies gave parental leave equally to men and women, it might help level the playing field by removing the problem of women taking more time off than men do.

“Many men think that women were born to raise children, but it’s not always true. Women have to learn to become mothers, too. Parenting is not a gender-specific trait,” Choi said.

“The government, as the city’s biggest employer, should lead the way in changing this culture.”


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