Bridging the gender pay gap in Asia Pacific
In 1948, Article 23 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) stated that ‘Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work’.1
A lot has happened since then, including gender wage discrimination becoming illegal in many jurisdictions, but much remains to be done.
In fact, many respected organisations believe it could take decades, if not centuries, to close the gender pay gap at the current rate of progress.
The findings from ADP Research Institute’s latest annual study of employee sentiment — People at Work 2023: A Global Workforce View — support these concerns. Our research shows there are still significant differences between the earnings of men and women across the Asia Pacific nations in our study.2
Although we focus here on gender pay disparities in the Asia Pacific region, this is an issue that crosses cultures and country borders. So even where companies have made progress with both gender equality and women’s participation in the workplace, societal, cultural and sometimes religious inequalities can still hinder progress.
How progress varies across Asia Pacific
While on average 55% of men and 56% of women believe their employer is better at gender pay equality compared to three years ago, the proportion who agree in each nation varies widely:
- India 63%
- China 51%
- Australia 34%
- Singapore 31%
63% of Indian workers say gender pay equality has improved in their company in the last three years but only 31% of Singaporean workers would agree
The importance of pay
Unsurprisingly, most of Asia Pacific’s workers rate ‘salary’ as the most important reason for going to work. Nearly six in 10 (59%) of employees say so; a figure in line with the global response (61%).
But the significance of salary varies between the sexes, with more men (63%) saying it’s important than women (55%). Ironically, despite its relative ranking, more women (61%) than men (53%) are satisfied with their salaries.
What’s more, although the rate of inflation varies from country to country and is generally falling across Asia Pacific countries, over six in 10 of the region’s workers (63%) are expecting a pay rise in the next 12 months to help ease the pressure on their household budgets.
Factors influencing the gender pay gap:
- The glass ceiling
Obstacles that prevent women moving up the career ladder
- Sticky floors
Disadvantages that hold women back in lower-paid roles
- Motherhood penalty
Loss of lifetime earnings by women raising children
How Asia Pacific’s gender pay gap compares to the rest of the world
The region’s economies are diverse, and the experiences and expectations of each nation’s labour force are often quite different. Some of those differences are reflected in this year’s People at Work study, which shows that although the region’s major nations have seen gender pay equality improvements, companies need to go further.
Specifically, the pay rises that women in the Asia Pacific region have recently received haven’t kept pace with those of men. Little wonder, then, that women also expect less this year.
For example, last year men’s pay rises averaged 6.7% compared with 6% for women globally. Men expect to see their pay increase by an average of 8.5% in the year ahead, while women foresee rises of around 8%.
These global disparities are reflected across Asia Pacific. Last year, men’s pay rises averaged 6.6% compared with 6.2% for women. And while women expect to receive a wage uplift of around 8.3%, men expect to pocket an average rise of 8.8%.
More men than women in the Asia Pacific region believe they’re underpaid:
- 47% of men feel underpaid for their job
- 37% of women feel underpaid for their job
Beyond pay – how the genders compare in their careers
- 'I'm satisfied with my career progression'
Men 52% — Women 59%
- ‘My employer and I talk about career progression’
Men 67% — Women 75%
- ‘I'm noticed and recognised for my contributions'
Men 71% — Women 80%
- 'My employer provides financial wellbeing advice'
Men 65% — Women 74%
- Average number of unpaid overtime hours a week
Men 9.24 — Women 7.97
Asia Pacific’s gender pay gap — it’s not just business, it’s personal
When it comes to how workers regard pay equity progress across the region, the headline findings from our study showed employers making good progress. But with around a third of workers (32% of men and 33% of women) saying that their employer hasn’t made anyprogress on gender pay compared to three years ago, there’s no room for complacency.
When we get down into the detail, we find a nuanced picture. For example, of the workers dissatisfied with their current employment, 17% of women cite the gender pay gap as a factor whereas only 6% of men agree.
Indeed, the findings from our research into the impact of the gender pay gap don’t vary solely between men and women. They also vary by age range, parental status and the ages of dependent children, as well as by region and the size of the employer.
For example, the level of dissatisfaction with the gender pay gap falls as workers get older (from 17% of 18–24-year-olds to near 0% of 45-55-year-olds), indicating that this is a hot-button issue for Gen Z employees.
“Having women at higher levels gives them a chance to push real change and impact workers across an entire organisation … the burden should not rest on the shoulders of women to advocate, but on companies to recognise disparities and close the gaps.”
- Nela Richardson, ADP Chief Economist and Head of ADP Research Institute
Gender workplace equality - what difference does family status make?
“My company is better at gender pay equality compared to three years ago”:
- 60% of parents agree/48% of non-parents agree
- 64% of mothers agree/55% of fathers agree
- 65% of parents with children aged 0 — 10 years old agree
- 40% of parents with children over 18 years old agree
Asia Pacific – leading the world in gender pay gap issues
Globally 53% of staff in the biggest corporations (those with 1000+ employees) say they’ve noticed an improvement in gender pay equality at their companies. But in the Asia Pacific region, even more workers (60%) in the largest enterprises say the same. In mid-sized firms, the picture is even more positive: an average of 66% of Asia Pacific workers in these companies perceive an improvement in their employers’ gender pay equality impact.
“My company is better at gender pay equality compared to three years ago”
Why closing the gender pay gap matters
Numerous studies have shown that employees who are satisfied with their organisation’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) are more engaged than dissatisfied employees.
Closing the gender pay gap can bring similar benefits for the leaders of Asia Pacific’s businesses:
Helping companies to recruit and retain the best talent, by:
- raising the morale and motivation of the whole team
- enabling an organisation to promote itself as a fair and transparent one
- relieving the HR team of the unenviable task of having to recruit for, and explain away, an inequitable salary strategy
Legislative compliance: limiting the risk of punitive fines and reputational damage that could result from non-compliance
Employers ignore the gender pay gap at their peril
In earlier research3 by ADP Research Institute — People at Work 2022: A Global Workforce View — we discovered that DEI-related issues were more highly regarded in Asia Pacific than in any other region of the world. Over three-quarters of workers in both India and China said they would consider looking for another job if they discovered their company had an unfair gender pay gap or lacked a diversity and inclusion policy.
To help close the gender pay gap, employers should:
Support parents with …
- reliable, affordable child and family care and
- flexible work options (such as part-time and job share opportunities)
Hire more women at senior leadership positions …
- female representation at the top is key
- it helps address pay and role disparities
Promote transparency …
- Provide employees with data about company and industry-wide salary rates
Examine and close pay gaps …
- work to avoid them in future
- make equity a core organisational value
- have clear policies and practices in place
Delivering the right data to drive equal pay in Singapore
Given the economic climate, employers can’t afford to overlook the importance of pay — and fair pay — in employees’ lives.
Business, HR, payroll and finance leaders can help drive down wage disparities and keep the gender pay gap closed for good by implementing an integrated payroll and HR system that can provide the accurate, real-time data they need to achieve these goals.
What’s more, an effective workforce compensation strategy, which helps a business to achieve the right salary levels and is equitable to both genders, can go a long way to helping employers recruit, reward and retain talent in a tight labour market.
To discover more insights into the gender pay gap as well as a wide range of exclusive global, regional and local workforce findings, download your free copy of People at Work 2023: A Global Workforce View.
“In our Potential of Payroll in 20244 study, 26% of payroll professionals in Asia Pacific companies said that ‘DEI (including pay transparency/pay equity)’ is a key business driver for transforming their payroll operations over the next two to three years. It’s encouraging to see more and more firms in the region prioritise this, especially when a third (32%) of these same employers acknowledge they lack the required analytical resources on their payroll team. As we’ve seen from previous ADP research, it’s not just about achieving baseline compliance with new laws. Firms need to actively prove to workers that they’re rooting out unfair gender pay practices if they hope to hold onto increasingly switched-on staff.”
- Corinne Carles, Senior Director Total Rewards at ADP
What workers want and how you can deliver it
Undertaken between 28 October and 18 November 2022, People at Work 2023: A Global Workforce View is a study by the ADP Research Institute® that brings you vital intelligence into the attitudes, aspirations, wants and needs of 32,612 workers in 17 countries, including over 8,613 working exclusively in the gig economy.
1- United Nations
2- ADP Research Institute, People at Work 2023: A Global Workforce View — Asia Pacific countries surveyed were China, India, Australia and Singapore
3- ADP Research Institute, People at Work 2022: A Global Workforce View — Asia Pacific countries surveyed were China, India, Australia and Singapore
4- ADP, The potential of payroll in 2024: Global payroll survey