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Women in male-dominated industries try to break the glass ceiling but still face difficulty

Christina Ho tried to keep the airplane’s rudder steady while responding to air traffic controls. 

She used to be a fashion designer but became an airline pilot for one of Hong Kong's leading airlines five years ago. Only 5.8% of the commercial airline pilots in the world are women, according to the data released by the International Society of Women Pilots.  

“As one of the few girls with no experience or engineering background in the class, I always reminded myself not to compare with others but only try my best,” Ho said. “I’ve never worried about the difficulties of being a woman or other people’s prejudice.”

Ho once had an opportunity to enter the cockpit and watch the captain's professional operation when she was a flight attendant. She fell in love with this career and was attracted by its multi-tasking characteristics.

“My heart beats faster and faster while taking off and speeding up, ” Ho said. “This experience inspired me to take hold of the motivation to learn when I come across something that captures my interest. ”

Christina Ho is sharing her career stories with girls and encouraging them to try different careers at the Kowloon True Light School.

At first, Ho’s mother didn't understand the hard work involved in the pilot training course. 

“After I flew with my mother for more than two hours in Australia when I graduated,  my mother learned more about my work, understood my pilot dream and supported my career,” Ho said. 

Being a pilot is one of a number of professions that’s traditionally dominated by men.

According to LinkedIn’s 2021 Opportunity Index, 41% of women in Asia Pacific believe they have fewer career development opportunities than men. A third of them thought gender was a barrier and there’s a lack of mentorship for women.

Taki Li, 33, a head bartender at Bar Leone in Central, has been in this field for eight years.

“My family was initially worried about the safety of a girl coming home late at night and uncertain about the bad influence brought by this industry,” said Li.

According to a report by the world of Chinese, the ratio of male to female bartenders in China is about 3:7.

Li attempted to break the prejudice by sharing her story and participating in different bartending competitions on television.

She won the Herno Gin Cocktail Award 2023 and Diageo World Class HKMO 2021 and her family’s acceptance of  her career choice.

“I want to prove to them that female bartenders are professional and creative, and will put in 100% effort,” she said. “I really love this job. Time will give my family a better understanding.”

Taki Li enjoys standing and bartending at the bar, feeling like she is shining on this "stage".

"I can see that more and more female bartenders are showing up at cocktail competitions," Li said. "It depends on your ability, not your gender".

Li said women bartenders tend to do well in taste matching and aesthetics of cocktails. They also communicate more with customers to create the flavour they like, and provide gentle services.

The construction industry is yet another sector that’s dominated by male workers. The proportion of women working in the industry is 2.2%, approximately seven times less than men, according to the 2021 Census Report released by the Hong Kong Census and Statistics Department,

“Most women are at a disadvantage when it comes to promotion,” said Cai Jiaxiu, 38, Assistant Professor at the School of Architecture, Chinese University of Hong Kong, who has been in the construction industry for more than 10 years. 

“Female architects face more skepticism than trust when bidding for jobs,” Cai said. “Female as programme presenters tend to have very different results from men. 

“The construction industry is physically demanding and time-consuming, often requiring us to stay up late, which is a challenge for women especially those who got married and have children,” she added. 

Even in industries that hire as many women as men, there is often an income gap, according to Rose Luqiu, an Associate Head and Associate Professor who studies gender equality and feminism at the Hong Kong Baptist University.

Being recognised as “Rose in the Battlefield”, Luqiu was the first Chinese female journalist reporting in Afghanistan in 2001 and in Iraq in 2003.

“Women have to be more capable than men in order to get the same promotion opportunities,” said Luqiu.

According to the data released by the Census and Statistics Department, the median income gap between men and women in Hong Kong between October to December in 2023 is about 16%.

Cai Jiaxiu believed that a main reason for the income gap is the different positions that women and men hold.

“Because of the difference in the physical intensity of the jobs, men tend to choose the construction side, while more women choose urban design positions,” she said. “The combination of heavier physical strength and specialized knowledge tends to pay more in Hong Kong.”

“However, salary cannot fully represent the difficulty level of work and contribution to society. Women demonstrate greater integrated understanding, coordination, and empathy when a design takes into account political, economic, and social factors, as well as human convenience, ” she added.

Quitting work because of childbirth and childcare is another reason for the income gap between women and men, said Ho.

“The salary depends on experience levels based on a pilot's flight time,” Ho said. “Some female pilots are unable to fly for periods of time when they have a baby, which may affect their salary.” 

According to the latest data released by World Salaries, male pilots, architects and bartenders earn about 9% more than female pilots in the same jobs, and male journalists earn about 10% more than women.

Apart from the income gap, sexual harassment is also a problem. 

According to Hong Kong Equal Opportunities Commision, 11.8% of the respondents experienced sexual harassment at work in the past 24 months, with about 6% more women than men in 2021.

According to the Equal Opportunities Commission, the sexual harassment complaints received from females were almost seven times that of males by Qual Opportunities Commission on 2020.

Li said  interactions with male customers in the bar are inevitable. She usually softly refused them or changed the section with teammates if they invited her to drink together after work.

“I cannot reject them aggressively because the customers come first in the nature of the service industry, so I try my best to keep a decent distance with them,” Li added.

“But being brave enough to say no when being harassed is also necessary,” Li said. “As a woman, we need to protect ourselves.” 

Cai said she also felt offended when other male counterparts treated her as a female first instead of an architect. Some of them even publicly insulted her, referring to her gender.

“Due to the conservative social environment, our generation was slow to react to the assault and harassment toward women at first and would especially take it  for granted when it comes to drinking,” said Luqiu. “But I’m glad to see that young women nowadays are resistant to such a culture, and this is a reflection of the progress of society.”

Hong Kong has implemented the Sex Discrimination Ordinance since the 1990s, making gender-based discrimination or harassment illegal in employment, and establishing the Equal Opportunities Commission to enforce the law.

“The EOC put forward proposals to amend the anti-discrimination legislation in 2016 to protect women's equal rights, including expanding the scope of protection against sexual harassment to cover people working together,” said Sam Ho, a senior corporate communications manager of the EOC. “The Hong Kong Government has adopted the proposal with effect from 2021.”

“Women's development is often limited by gender stereotypes,” said Sam Ho. “We have various publicity and education programmes on social media, including an Instagram campaign called "EO Matters" to encourage the community to eliminate gender stereotypes and promote equal opportunities for both genders ”

“Using animated illustrations and interviews, the posts follow the interests of young people and inspire them to think about hot topics,” he added. 

“We need more female role models to change their dilemma in male-dominated industries," said Luqiu. “From the perspective of communication, it is important that female figures continue to be seen. ” 

Christina Ho appeared in the advertisement for her company as one of the leading airlines in Hong Kong as a female pilot two years ago.

“Lots of ads featuring tall and handsome male pilots. I want people to see more female role models and get more girls interested in becoming pilots,” she said. 

Ho’s company tries to foster a more inclusive workplace for women with a dedicated Diversity and Inclusion Department.

“Being open-minded to everyone's needs is the key,” Ho said. “For example, we invite female employees to share their stories, and find their difficulties every year on Women's Day.”

Cai’s organization set up more instructions to balance the gender ratio of the job, when hiring or promoting, including some subsidies.

“Gender equality in the workplace and more aspects has never just been a women’s issue,” said Luqiu. “It is impossible to change the current situation without men's reflection and awareness because they occupy the main position and resources. ”

“The ideal would be to use ability rather than gender to determine who can do what,” Luqiu added.

To improve the social norms, Ho set up the topic ‘life lessons from the sky’ on social media to share her career experiences in order to empower women to be interested in becoming pilots.


Christina Ho set up the series "life lessons from the sky" on social media, where she shared a lot of her career experience with hand-drawn works, empowering more people.

“Think about whether this is something you really want to do, rather than thinking about difficulties as a woman and others' opinions.”

Don't limit yourself by gender,” Ho said.


《The Young Reporter》

The Young Reporter (TYR) started as a newspaper in 1969. Today, it is published across multiple media platforms and updated constantly to bring the latest news and analyses to its readers.


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