More Asia leaders in PR firms but pay disparity still an issue

ASIA PACIFIC: While several major Public Relations firms have addressed historic imbalances across local markets by hiring Asians into leadership roles, tracking pay disparity among PR practitioners in the region has become challenging due to a lack of data.

These were among the findings from a recent study conducted by PRovoke Media which surveyed more than 1,100 employees from 24 PR agencies in the Asia Pacific region.

The report offered a case in point: While Ogilvy PR’s upper management team in its local operations are predominantly Asian women, its parent company policy prevents it from sharing any data at an agency level. This reluctance to share pay gap data makes it difficult to mark the developments in tackling unequal pay, claimed the study.

Ogilvy PR Asia-Pacific president Emily Poon commented that "It is critical to conduct regular pay parity reviews to address any gaps that may come up. Ogilvy PR has made a consistent effort over the years to hire, retain and nurture the best local talent across all levels and offices across Asia-Pacific."

BCW Asia-Pacific deputy president Polka Yu reported that 76% of her current executive team are Asian, and 60% are female.

Caroline Hsu from the Hoffman Agency believed that pay parity is due to the perception that local Asian staff should ask for less than a Western colleague. "We need to ensure that people are paid based on their ability, experience, and true value — not on their ethnicity. They are paid based on their actual value for that current role, not according to a calculation based on previous earnings," she noted.

"The reality is that American and European PR professionals often tend to have higher expectations in terms of compensation than their Asian peers, and are better at asking for it. Asian professionals have a duty to educate themselves on their market value and demand that they get paid accordingly. The talent shortage means it is a seller’s market, so the odds are ultimately in their favour," she contends.

Archetype regional director Lee Nugent pointed out that the PR industry can resolve the imbalance issues revealed in the PRovoke Media study. His suggestions include monitoring progress, offering just promotion and compensation, adopting flexible ways of doing business, increasing employers' awareness of the impact of their unconscious biases as well as tapping role models to inspire others in the team.

PRovoke Media also recommended several ways for firms to hold themselves accountable, such as making their data public, implementing compensation systems with incentives to measurable progress, conducting wage equity audits, and publicly disclosing improvements towards fair and equitable pay.

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