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Elliott Scott: The Women’s Foundation Research Briefing

This afternoon, I attended a briefing by The Women’s Foundation on the Status of Women in Hong Kong. Commissioned by The Women’s Foundation with support from Goldman Sachs, Civic Exchange (an independent policy, non-profit think tank in Hong Kong) recently completed an ambitious research project that provides a broad overview of the social and economic conditions confronting women in Hong Kong today and over the last two decades. The analysis and trends of the research were presented in a panel this afternoon by head researcher, Professor Michael DeGolyer, and independent social policy researcher, Louisa Mitchell.

Su-Mei Thompson introduced the panel by highlighting the goals and values of The Women’s Foundation. Thompson articulated that “Research is [their] cornerstone” and that one of their aims to “create a level-playing field for women in business.” Through the highlights of the research by both DeGolyer and Mitchell, there were several trends which were discussed. Among them, DeGolyer shared that this research is unique in Hong Kong as it touches on different trends than the national census data picks up; it is far more subjective. That said, there were several areas of data that the researchers attempted to probe into; however, there was a lack of meaningful census data and analytics to provide any themes on these areas. Mitchell explained that there were varying trends among women across different age groups, namely professional growth, earning potential and education. Despite advances for women in their 20s, “career choices remain highly gendered and education hasn’t improved earnings.” As the “child-bearing years” typically impact women in their 30s most frequently, the data shows that workplace practices still aren’t up to speed enough to keep women in this age bracket engaged and motivated to remain in the workplace, either before or after having a child. Additionally, Mitchell shared that for women in their 40s and 50s, “middle aged men have still done better” professionally and with regard to salary achievement in the workplace. There was a well-rounded discussion on the trend of younger women who, on the surface, appear to have achieved equality but who, according to the data, have not. Even with the presence of foreign domestic helpers in Hong Kong, workplaces still remain family unfriendly environments for women in these age brackets, and Hong Kong still lags behind other locations around the world. With regard to education, 53% of women in Hong Kong achieve post-secondary degrees; however, the data shows that this advanced education doesn’t necessarily help with career growth. Additionally, one can allude from the data that more education doesn’t necessarily help the young as there hasn’t been an improvement on earnings or availability of job market growth. There was a meaningful amount of discussion around the aging population in Hong Kong and the “aging parents” age group (65+). Essentially, the data indicates that there are fewer young people to support more and more aging parents. The aging population in Hong Kong is due to double in less than 20 years. This continues to lead to growing pressures on women to contribute significant portions of their annual salaries to aging parents and family members. In the 20s demographic, 40% are contributing something to aging parents. With women in their 30s, half of them are giving 20% or more of their salaries. This also provides a link to the earning potential of women, because as they might be earning more as they get older and progress in their careers, they are subsequently providing more of their family unit’s income to the aging population. On a participation level, there was quite a bit of discussion around women’s minimal involvement in professional associations and the lack of women entirely in functional constituencies in Hong Kong political system. Essentially, the numbers of women in functional constituencies have been consistent for the last nearly 20 years, until recently when the numbers shifted to zero. Arguably, the functional constituencies only serve to reinforce gender bias in Hong Kong where women will be outvoted. While women are very engaged and involved in civil society and social causes (such as environmental reform), the discussion was focused on the idea that women are less active in more formal power structures and professional associations in Hong Kong.

Today’s panel was a fascinating overview of the trends that are shaping Hong Kong’s future in all aspects of daily personal and professional life. For more reference, please feel free to download and review the full research report by Civic Exchange:
http://www.civic-exchange.org/wp/201302gender_en/

by Dorit Ingber

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