Legal survey finds 'boy's club' culture pervasive

Half of the women working in Hong Kong's legal sector have experienced gender bias at work, according to a survey by global law firm Mayer Brown and Women in Law Hong Kong.

The poll took in 360 women and men currently working or have worked in the legal sector.

Some 23.7 percent of women respondents said they had been told to change their specialty in law or career path, while 38.2 percent felt they lost out on career opportunities due to their gender or their need to take care of their family.

In some cases, women found that their commitment or competence was questioned due to their role as caregivers, causing some to leave the profession and resulting in a gender imbalance at senior levels of private practices and in-house teams.

Some women also said they were often ignored, interrupted or undermined in many workplaces.

Some 23 percent of women in senior positions said they had seen clients asking questions or help from more junior male colleagues instead of them.

These senior women said they are still relegated to non-career-enhancing "office housework," often outside the scope of their job description but considered necessary for the team, or administrative tasks, whereas men were assigned challenging and interesting high-profile assignments.

The survey suggests the profession needs to address its pervasive "boys' club" culture.

Women continue to receive unsolicited comments about their appearance or behavior, with 26.1 percent saying they received advice about clothes, as well as patronizing remarks about how they should behave, such as to "smile more" or to "be less confrontational" lest they be viewed as being too aggressive.

Amita Haylock, a partner at Mayer Brown's IP & TMT group and co-chair of the Asia Women's Network, said: "Senior leadership need to walk the talk, and leaders need to take the initiative to respectfully challenge each other on gender bias issues."

Law firms are also urged to set gender diversity targets and report the achievement just as businesses publish profits, and Haylock added it's "no use setting targets just for the sake of it and toxic behavior should be called out especially by men in power."