Mao Zedong's quote that "women hold up half the sky" may be more aspiration than fact when it comes to Hong Kong women owning and operating businesses.
Based on the latest MasterCard Worldwide Index of Women's Advancement, with 30 women for every 100 men owning businesses, females in Hong Kong lag behind those on the mainland (42.6) and Taiwan (30.2). Hong Kong, the mainland and Taiwan are just three of 12 Asian markets that had fewer than 50 female business owners for every 100 male business owners.
Jeroen van Son, head of Hong Kong and Macau at MasterCard Worldwide, says the decision to start a business usually depends on the strength of the economy and the amount of opportunity cost, which is the income from regular employment.
"In Hong Kong, our research shows that female workers with regular employment make up more than 90 per cent of the female labour force. This suggests it is relatively easier for Hong Kong women to get a job compared to women in other countries," van Son says. "As such, females who start their own business would be driven more by entrepreneurial spirit than by necessity."
He adds that as the labour force continues to grow in Hong Kong, MasterCard expects the absolute number of women business owners to grow in line with the rising number of women in the work environment. However, the ratio of women business owners as a percentage of the female labour force is expected to remain at approximately 1.6 per cent.
"Our research indicates the ratio of women business owners to female labour force typically varies between 1 and 3 per cent in most markets."
Overall workforce participation rates for women are strong in Hong Kong, with 76.6 women for every 100 men in the workforce. Enrolment rates for women in tertiary institutions are on par with men across most Asia-Pacific markets. In Hong Kong (105.1), women are better represented in tertiary institutions compared with their male counterparts.
"This indicates that Hong Kong still has important work to do in terms of providing the environment and opportunities for women to break the glass ceiling and rise to leadership positions," van Son says.
Shalini Mahtani, CEO of non-profit organisation Community Business, says one should not focus too much on surveys and instead look towards the future. "When we look at the number of females in Generation Y [or those born after the late 1970s] navigating through the workplace, I believe we will see more females launching their own business."
Her rationale is based on the mindset of many Gen Y women who want to gain knowledge and rapid experience across different industries.
"A lot of today's well-educated females no longer want to spend three or four years working at the lower levels in accounting or investment banking.
"Gen Y females do not operate within the same parameters as the previous generation of female workforce. They want greater levels of job satisfaction and the opportunity to determine their own future," Mahtani says.
Hong Kong females make up 76 per cent of the workforce, but only 30 women for every 100 men operate their own firms
Today's Generation Y women workers look for greater job satisfaction