In many ways Hong Kong is an excellent place to be a career woman. The city is extremely safe, women are not expected to stay at home while husbands work, and affordable child care from domestic helpers means going back to work after giving birth is financially and practically much more viable than in many Western countries. The culture is quite egalitarian, and women’s rights and gender equality are protected by law. Women are just as well educated as men.
This has been noted abroad too, with a 2011 study by a recruitment agency of professionals in 85 countries finding the low crime rate, tax system and opportunities for personal development cited as reasons why Hong Kong is an ideal place to work.
However, for the Hong Kong woman all is not rosy. High stress levels among professionals have long been reported for both men and women, but traditional Chinese family culture can make things more difficult for the latter. Many work the same hours as men but are expected to handle more of the household duties once they get home – particularly if they live with their parents, as many unmarried Hong Kong people do. They are also more likely to be expected to look after elderly relatives.
Politically, the Hong Kong Legislative Council and the judiciary are heavily male; in business terms, studies suggest that fewer than 10 percent of directors in Hong Kong are female (the number in the US is 15 percent). Women also earn less than men and stay in the workforce for a shorter time. These numbers are no worse than in most Western countries, but there’s a sense that Hong Kong could be doing better, and that the glass ceiling is still there. Suggestions for improvement focus around flexible working hours (working hours and environments are still very traditional here), as well as improved maternity leave and other measures from companies on top of state-mandated benefits.
Overseas women in Hong Kong certainly won’t feel they’re being held back, and should have as much opportunity to thrive as their male counterparts. Those who come here because a husband or partner is posted here find it extremely easy to start their own businesses or throw themselves into new professional activities – all part of the nature of Hong Kong, whose system is designed to make forming companies and becoming part of the local economy as straightforward as possible. The abovementioned childcare helps with this as well. See the organisations below for advice and support for professional women in Hong Kong.
Hong Kong Women Professionals & Entrepreneurs Association
Prominent group dating from 1996 with the aim to “develop a strong support network, create practical and innovative learning and business opportunities and promote high professional standards”. Organizes a range of activities, programs and awards.
Long-established network for professional women, with a directory of members and sponsors as well as regular events.