A new study reveals a major pay disparity between men and women in the communications and corporate affairs industry in Asia Pacific.
The 2018 State of the Industry report by Prospect and PublicAffairsAsia interviewed 67 professionals and surveyed a further 400 people in brands and agencies.
It discovered that on average, across the region, men earn US$156,000 per annum, while women earn $122,000. The gap is widest in Hong Kong, where men earn an average of $60,000 more per year than women. It is smallest in Singapore, where the disparity still amounts to $10,000.
A deeper dive into the sector in Hong Kong indicates that while male and female employees start their careers on similar salaries, averaging $30,000 between the ages of 20 and 24, men are already earning typically $6,000 more by the age of 25 to 34, and the gap increases incrementally from then onwards. The report theorises that the imbalance stems from companies making efforts of late to balance pay at entry level, even though they are still apparently unable to find a way to re-adjust the salaries of employees further on in their careers.
"I am disappointed to see that there is still such a wide pay gap between men and women in Hong Kong," says Kiri Sinclair, founder and managing director of the communications agency Sinclair. "I feel that at a junior level this is not such a reality, but at a senior level (where the State of the Industry Report shows a gap of up to US$90,000 for people with the same years of experience) it is certainly very upsetting."
Sinclair suggests that a rift between men and women’s salaries could have formed because of the different segments each gender has typically chosen to work for. "Consumer PR tends to see more woman whereas public affairs and finance, the higher paying sectors within the PR industry, tend to attract men." Sinclair notes a recent shift in the roles men and women are attracted to, however. She also says that eight out of 10 job applications she receives are from female candidates, across both PR and digital positions.
"As a profession, our reputation for being strategic thinkers that lead business decisions needs to override the perception of PR and communications professionals from days past. This perception change would allow for a higher value to be placed on our work, and therefore a higher fee, allowing us to pass these earnings to the team. I feel that when this perception shift is realised, the PR profession will attract more men."
Expats out-earning locals
The State of the Industry report also found that foreign employees are earning more than local employees in all APAC markets except Australia. From a survey base made up of 40% of expatriates and 57% locals whom, the report admits, are drawn from mid to senior levels of the industry, the results show that expats across the region earn $156,000 on average, while local employees take home $123,000.
Again, the discrepancy is more marked in Hong Kong, where expats typically out-earn locals by $64,000 a year, which amounts to an additional $5,333 a month.
While this can partly be explained by the fact that a significant number of senior management roles are still held by foreigners, the report notes that "the drive to localise" is intensifying across the region among Western multinationals. It quotes an interview with Jason Kendy, head of communications and branding for UBS in Japan and Korea, who says companies need to work hard to ensure that they are localising for the right reasons — namely to ensure the right messaging for the market, rather than to "look" local.
"Korea is very different to China," Kendy says. "China is very different to Singapore. Singapore is very different to Thailand. And they are all very different to the United States. My company gives me a lot of leeway to say ‘that message is not going to work here’ and to do what is needed to get it right for the Japanese market."
Four more key takeaways on salaries from the report:
- There was a 5% increase in average pay across the APAC communications and corporate affairs sector in 2017, taking the average regional salary to $141,000. Bonus payments averaged 23% of base salaries.
- Salaries were highest in Australia ($193,000), followed by Singapore ($150,000), Mainland China ($138,000) and Hong Kong ($125,000). The average salary across Southeast Asia, excluding Singapore, was $91,000.
- Corporate affairs employees took home the highest salaries, an average of $195,000 per year, while public relations and internal communications staff earned the lowest: $105,000 and $92,000 respectively.
- In-house salaries remain higher on average than those in the agency sector in all markets, with the gap widest in China: agency staff in China earn $89,000 compared to their in-house counterparts on $165,000.