Female employees in Hong Kong begin work earning slightly more than male colleagues, new research suggests – but the gender pay gap reverses and widens significantly with age.

HR consultancy Willis Towers Watson said the discrepancy was due to the fact women left the job market earlier than men and were less likely to take up senior positions.

Data from 250,000 employees across 500 companies in Hong Kong showed that women under the age of 20 earned an average HKD122,000 (US$15,500) annually, slightly more than men in the same age group, who took home HKD121,000.

However, the gender pay gap – the collective difference in average hourly earnings between men and women – soon favoured men. Women in their 30s earned 11 per cent less – HKD329,000 – compared to male colleagues, who earned HKD369,00.

By the time workers reach 60, women earn only HKD322,000 – half the annual income of the average male worker (HKD618,000) in the same age group.

Julie Gebauer, head of human capital and benefits at Willis Towers Watson, told attendees at a media briefing in Hong Kong that women across the globe left work to care for their families, impacting their earnings.

“It’s a global trend that while we have similar number of men and women at the entry level of a company, women tend to leave their jobs earlier than men as they may want to take care of their family,” Gebauer said. “There are many studies that show that companies with gender equality policies tend to perform better.”

Gebauer said the adoption of technology in the workplace would allow women to hold onto their jobs for longer and could impact the gender pay gap.

Recent gender pay gap reports from HSBC and Standard Chartered Bank, which are both listed in Hong Kong, corroborated the study’s findings. Both banks reported paying female bankers less than men in the UK, where gender pay gap reporting is now mandatory, but argued this results from fewer women occupying senior roles.

The gap for average hourly pay was 60 per cent in favour of men at HSBC, according to its 2018 gender pay gap report. HSBC said it “will take time and require sustained focus over the long term” in order to address the pay gap, but it was dedicated to improving the balance.

Standard Chartered reported a gender pay of 31.4 per cent in 2018. Unlike HSBC, it also voluntarily released gender pay gap data from other markets around the globe. The bank reported a 33 per cent gap in Hong Kong, 39 per cent in Singapore and 31 per cent in the UAE.

Earlier this year, gender pay made headlines as member of parliament Daniel Goh said Singapore’s income gap was “unacceptable”.

Goh told Singapore’s parliament that the pay gap will affect the future retirement plans of female workers and pointed to data from consumer research firm ValuePenguin that showed that the country’s gender pay gap remained the same between 2006 and 2016. Women on average earned $610 less than men per month, according to the data.

Goh said that the healthcare sector was one of the worst offenders – with women earning SG$1,540 less per month than their male co-workers on average.

He suggested boosting income for nurses would “kill several birds with one stone” as it would help close the gender pay gap and boost their social value.

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