Equal Opportunities Commission


Chairperson’s Articles

How Hong Kong will benefit from a more diverse civil service


As part of our anti-discrimination role, we, at the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC), hear of individual experiences and challenges that may not be very apparent to the public.

Recently, a young, ethnic minority university graduate with excellent academic credentials shared his difficulty in getting a job. As experienced by other Hongkongers from ethnic minority communities, the lack of a certain level of Chinese language proficiency barred him from success, even though, in his case, it was listed as a “preferred skill” in the job advertisement rather than a must-have.

Another experience relates to hijab-wearing jobseekers. We hear of offers conditional on the successful applicant not wearing her hijab at work.

On the language issue, the EOC continues to work on lowering employment barriers with key stakeholders. Some recommendations we make to employers are to review their job requirements to ensure that Chinese language proficiency is included only if genuinely needed. The other is to try and provide on-the-job language learning opportunities and incentives.

It is therefore heartening to see some of these initiatives adopted by government departments, as announced in the policy address last month. The government is Hong Kong’s largest employer and these initiatives have huge potential for social impact by propelling other employers to move in the same direction.

In particular, government departments are being encouraged to “design their own language tests” that are tailored to the job requirements, so applicants have another way to meet the language proficiency requirements. The Civil Service Bureau will also provide basic workplace Chinese training for its ethnic minority interns.

Learning job-related Chinese at work will fill the skills gap that many ethnic minority youth face. We are certain interns will find such application-oriented and practical training beneficial.

The language barriers in employment that ethnic minority Hongkongers face is an issue that requires a longer term approach and more flexible accommodation. But the job barriers related to the ways in which ethnic minority jobseekers may dress and appear is one that requires more public education and awareness.

Since 2018, the EOC has been engaging with businesses on the topic through its racial diversity and inclusion charter for employers. Nearly 400 organisations have signed up to the charter, and this network provides a bird’s-eye view of racial diversity and inclusion efforts in the workplace.

At a recently concluded charter event attended by the representatives of nearly 100 businesses and other organisations, best practices among Hong Kong employers were discussed.

Some of the more noteworthy efforts to promote diversity and fair hiring are showing diverse faces on job advertisements, having a diverse hiring panel, adopting a diversity and inclusion statement that goes beyond “equal opportunities employer”, reaching out to ethnic minorities through NGOs, and drawing feedback from minority staff through employee group discussions and surveys.

For employees from racial or other minorities to feel comfortable, be productive and willing to stay in the job, organisations must develop a culture of diversity and inclusion that runs the length and breadth of the system and in every interaction.

Take the hijab case for example. A little bit of flexibility around staff uniforms or attire to accommodate the hijab – or other religious dress – is surely a win-win solution. Then, the policy should be made known to all sections of the company. This is essential in preventing operational-level staff and hiring practitioners from sticking to a mainstream-biased mindset with no awareness of the flexibilities available.

With the government encouraging its departments to pay attention to one of the biggest challenges to the employment of ethnic minorities in civil service jobs – the Chinese language – there will hopefully be more tangible diversity.

There are many benefits to having greater diversity in the civil service. For a start, it “mainstreams” ethnic minorities and makes these communities, which have deep roots in Hong Kong, more visible to the general populace. This visibility can dispel many unconscious biases and prejudices that may have arisen from a lack of interaction.

It will also give members of ethnic minority communities more chances to serve all of Hong Kong, dispelling the misplaced notion that they should be employed only to serve “their own kind”. Finally, it gives people from racial minorities more options to move beyond the few sectors that they have seemingly become concentrated in.

With so many potential benefits and with the government leading the way, we are certain that many businesses will feel empowered to follow.

The article was published in SCMP on 24 November 2023.