Equal Opportunities Commission



Smart Talk: Equality at Work and What Has Changed with COVID-19
Co-organised by Cyberport, Equal Opportunities Commission & FELIX Consulting

Speech by Mr Ricky CHU Man-kin, Chairperson, Equal Opportunities Commission


1. Good afternoon, Alice (Head of Entrepreneurship, Hong Kong Cyberport Management Co. Ltd.), Mônica (Founder and CEO, FELIZ Consulting), Dear guests and friends who are watching the live-stream.  I’m delighted to have joined this meaningful event.

2. First of all, A big thank-you to Cyberport and FELIZ Consulting for co-organising this Webinar with us. It has been a great pleasure working with you. I would also like to extend my gratitude to the moderators (Monica & Devi) and panelists (Annie, Peter, Nina & Everly) for your kind support and valuable inputs.

3. According to the latest statistics provided by the Hong Kong Census and Statistics Department, the female population has outnumbered the male population (i.e. we now have more women than men in HK), and that the proportion of women in the labour force are increasing [1], also the number of female university students has surpassed their male counterparts. One would therefore tend to assume that gender equality at work can be readily achieved in the near future. However, with a closer look into the whole picture and we know Spring has not come early.

4. While the proportion of women working as managers, administrators, and professionals increased from (roughly) 20% in 1993 to 35% in 2019, it was still much lower than the corresponding proportion of their male counterparts, which stood at almost 50 % in 2019.[2] This means 2 things: 1st, amongst working women a larger portion of them are still employed in junior or frontline posts when compared with men; and 2nd, it shows that the glass ceiling on women still exists. Furthermore, a research on family status conducted by the EOC in 2018 showed that during the recruitment process, men with family responsibility were perceived to be more competent, more committed and with higher potential for promotion than women with similar family responsibility.[3]

5. When we add in the element of race, it is even more blatant that women from certain races are more vulnerable. Our research shows that non-Chinese women, in particular non-Caucasian, do experience discrimination regularly in employment, education, accessing to goods, facilities and services.

6. Since December 2018, the EOC has launched Racial Diversity & Inclusion Charter for Employers for the purpose of promoting workplace racial equality. As at today, the Charter has got 122 signatories who have committed to various policies and initiatives, including establishing fair recruitment and employment process to prevent racial prejudices and providing an inclusive work environment for ethnic minority employees etc.

7. Now, with COVID-19 emerging this year, many employees are losing jobs, taking pay cuts etc., the United Nations has reported that working women are more adversely affected than men, even to a disproportionate scale. The reason is that many women are employed in healthcare, retail, hotel, restaurant and other hospitality sectors, which suffered badly when faced the brunt of infection containment measures.

8. One of the effective measures adopted by Hong Kong in combating COVID-19 has been the work-from-home arrangement, which, however, have some undesirable impacts on women, such as that they may be more exposed to the risk of sexual harassment or other forms of domestic abuse. [4] & [5]

9. Unfortunately, COVID-19 has brought unprecedented challenges to all of us, and it takes time to recover. Be that as it may, we can always explore new ideas to turn these challenges into positives. For example:

- With proper management, can we extend the work from home arrangement for employees with family responsibility, or with disability, so as to cater for their needs? or

- Can we explore the use of technology to promote diversity, inclusion and equality not only in the workplace but across the board for our community as a whole?

10. There are also specific actions that companies and organizations can take during this trying time, for instance:

- Ensuring women's perspectives be included in all planning and decision-making processes

- Assessing how policies and measures impact women, especially women of different races, with disability or family responsibility, and take appropriate steps to bridge the gap

- Being empathetic and sensitive of any unintended consequences brought about by infection containment measures towards the mental health of employees etc.

11. In the end, it boils down to all of us joining hands together to make equality at work a reality. And for this, we need individuals like you, and organizations like yours, to lead by example and inspire others.

12. With that, let me congratulate and thank you all for taking part in this wonderful exchange. Have a lovely evening.

[1] https://www.statistics.gov.hk/pub/B11303032020AN20B0100.pdf (point 4.4 page 98)

[2] Idem page 101

[3] https://www.eoc.org.hk/eoc/upload/ResearchReport/2018821172323460505.pdf

[4] https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20200630-how-covid-19-is-changing-womens-lives

[5] https://twfhk.org/blog/work-home-challenges-and-opportunities