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Women at work: Recent survey shows family and work commitments continue to hold women back

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A recent survey shows that Hong Kong’s property companies have the most female employees compared with other Asia-Pacific territories. But in terms of flexibility and benefits, they fall short.

Results indicate that around 60% of women in Hong Kong feel held back by the challenge of balancing family life and their professional responsibilities. As part of theDesk’s Female in Focus discussion forums, we set out to explore what other issues have a negative impact on women in the workplace in our city.

theDesk Sai Wan

Conflicting commitments

Data shows that the conflict between family and work commitments is the most significant obstacle to women in the property industry. Two of the critical factors are family leave and flexibility.

Hong Kong workers put in around 50 hours a week. An article in the South China Morning Post states that these are among the longest working hours in the developed world.

Spending time with family, in particular, suffers and it becomes complicated for women to find an appropriate work-life balance.

Hong Kong women have only 10 weeks of maternity leave. In Australia, women can take up to 52 weeks of maternity leave.

The difference becomes starker when we compare Hong Kong with Australia. The real estate sector in that country also has a high female employment ratio. But unlike Hong Kong, fewer than 50% of respondents complained about issues with leave and flexibility.

Our city is making progress towards equality in the workplace, but it’s still the case that Hong Kong women have only ten weeks of maternity leave. The International Labour Organisation’s standard is for least 14 weeks. In Australia, women can take up to 52 weeks of maternity leave. Given this data, it seems evident that the situation of women in Hong Kong is insufficient, regarding benefits and flexibility.

A lack of facilities

Businesses tend to see working mothers as a liability. The lack of child-care services and breastfeed-friendly facilities, combined with entrenched traditional values of women’s roles as mothers and home-makers add to the burden and hold many back from achieving their full potential.

54% of working mums in the USA do all or most of the household work, compared with 22% of men.

There is room for improvement in Hong Kong. And not only pushing for the better accommodation of the needs of working mothers. But also, ensuring that fathers have equal access to paternity leave.

A change in social attitudes is also required. Working mothers typically work ‘double shifts’. In the USA, for example, 54% of women do all or most of the household work, compared with 22% of men.

For American women, the gap widens when they have children. Women with children are 5.5 times more likely than husbands or partners to do all or most of the household work. And even women who are the primary breadwinners do more work at home. It seems like professional success is not enough to push more men to take on their fair share of household duties.

Register now for Female in Focus: An open and sincere discussion forum (Kid-friendly)

Where: theDesk, G/F Queen’s Road West, Sai Ying Pun, 3706 8976

When: Saturday 11th November, 2 pm to 4 pm.

Transport: HKU Station, Island Line, Exit B2

Register now

We’d love you come to the forum. We only have limited spaces available so sign up now on Eventbrite. Or contact polina@thedesk.com.hk for more information.

Stepping up the game

The Hong Kong survey focused on women working in property companies. But we can imagine that a similar story is true in many sectors with high levels of female employees. It’s crystal clear that local firms need to step up their game and provide incentives and support to better facilitate women entering and remaining in the workforce.

Without some fundamental change, it will become increasingly difficult for businesses to recruit and retain female employees.

There are many changes which could have a positive impact on women in the workplace, for example:

investing in more employee training

ensuring that women are treated fairly at the hiring, promotion and annual review stages of employment

offering women the flexibility to fit work into their lives instead of demanding she makes huge sacrifices to accommodate her employer’s procedures and unrealistic expectation

You’ve never had it so good, but …

While it’s true that Hong Kong women have a far better experience now than at any other time in history, it’s also a fact that we’re on a journey towards equality.

The path ahead needs to lead us to a re-evaluation of the pain points or working mums. And for all of us to open up and share our experiences so that men are fully aware of the situation from a woman’s perspective. And then to implement activities which will further narrow the gap between the needs and expectations of women as both mothers and professionals.


Join theDesk in Causeway Bay and Sai Ying Pun

We have the space. You have the ideas. Let’s make it together.

Contact paul@thedesk.com.hk today. Discover how our inclusive community, flexible plans and pricing can help get your business moving.


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