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Gender pay gap in Financial Services

Having worked in financial services for the last 10 years, I wasn’t surprised but still disheartened to see the results from the inaugural eFinancialCareers survey which investigated salaries and bonuses in Financial Services across Hong Kong and Singapore, therefore had interesting findings when contrasting the two cities. The survey respondents worked across Financial Services, including front office, middle office and back office roles, as well as buy-side and sell-side.

The results were evident, salaries in Hong Kong are overall higher; men are paid 64% more than their female colleagues, in comparison to Singapore, where men earn double that of women. The results clearly showed that compensation in Hong Kong remains far ahead of Singapore, but it also comes with longer hours and a greater gender pay differential. Average salaries for both men and women in Hong Kong are greater than in Singapore but the pay gap is also larger. Women in Hong Kong, on average made US$128k vs the average male pay being close to US$355k, leading to over a 64% pay differential. In Singapore, the pay differential was 51% but men made US$235k to the female pay of US$116k.

I believe that because Hong Kong has been the biggest center for investment banking the salary differences can also be explained by the type of work conducted. Hong Kong has a focus on equity markets, M&A and hedge funds, compared to Singapore which has a greater proportion of private banking and wealth management and may even have more operational staff. “The operational segregation, where women are less likely to choose the high paying Investment Banking, Hedge Funds and Private Equity roles, also contributes to the gender pay gap, across the hubs”.

I also spoke to Emery Fung, Talent Acquisition Leader, DEI expert and host of the podcast, Awkward Turtle At Work. He shared his thoughts on the reasons for this discrepancy. First, Singapore has a more developed understanding of Gender Equality and DEI efforts. For example, it is mandated from Jan 2020 that listed companies must provide Climate and Gender Diversity reports. While HKEX has a similar mandate, “they focus primarily on the Environmental side, not requiring data on the ‘Social’ part of ESG”. Additionally, there are more DEI officers stationed in Singapore than in Hong Kong that are working actively on gender awareness and pay gap issues.

Further investigating diversity and inclusion in Financial Services, The Women’s Foundation found several reasons contributing to the gender pay gap. Most importantly is the gender imbalance in senior roles. While there is equal representation at the entry-level, at management and board level, only a small percentage of women remain. Women occupy 29% of management positions in Hong Kong compared to 31% in Singapore. This occurs for a myriad of reasons including “lack of career progression” and “other career opportunities” as well as “lack of childcare/parental caregiver options” or “cultural pressure to stay at home”. Not only are there fewer women at the top but the pay gap also rises as seniority increases. The gap has also widened in recent years, and needs addressing.

Both Hong Kong and Singapore still have intensive work to do to achieve gender parity, in Financial Services and across industries. Emery suggests that it should be tackled not just in the private sector but also through government policies and protections. Singapore also has greater maternity leave benefits including 16 weeks at full pay, compared to Hong Kong’s 14 weeks at 80% pay. Initiatives such as Flexible Work Arrangements (FWAs) implemented in Singapore helps gender equality in the workplace, as women are more likely to be in carer roles and are able to manage all their family or household responsibilities if they can work remotely or have flexible hours.

I also believe that DEI efforts must be implemented in organizations and not just restricted to HR or senior management. Programmes such as bias training or blind hiring, for example, can help eliminate the gender difference at the hiring stage. Moreover, career sponsoring for women can help in not only navigating the complex eco-systems but through education and mentoring women are encouraged and enabled to ask for promotions, salary increases or better terms. Pay transparency in organizations or in external communities can also help reduce the pay gap. Most Financial Services organizations already conduct salary assessments and benchmarking across genders for certain ranks and roles (or even locations), including hiring external parties. Introducing further measures and research, such as exit interviews and regular engagement surveys, can also help highlight where the pain points are and what next steps to take.

Ultimately, everything is not all bleak and there are improvements across the industry in Hong Kong. Senior leaders recognize that diversity is critical for not just inclusion but also for business success, and therefore are implementing programmes and offerings for women to be hired, promoted and rewarded equally. With herFinancialFreedom, my intention is to raise awareness amongst women and create a community that helps them advocate for higher pay and more opportunities. To find out more, schedule a call with me!


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