Emily Tan
Jun 12, 2012

Men earn far more than women in Asia’s ad industry: Firebrand

ASIA-PACIFIC - The region's compensation gender gap is unfortunately reflected across its advertising industry, with men earning as much as 60 per cent more than women in the same job sector in certain countries, according to a study by talent recruitment agency Firebrand.

In several countries men out earn women by more than 50 per cent
In several countries men out earn women by more than 50 per cent

When measuring by job sector, the difference is most acute in Hong Kong, where men in account management/media/planning earn a median base salary (not including cash benefits, bonus or pension) of US$61,900 per annum—60 per cent more than women in the same job sector, who earn US$38,700.

The Firebrand Market Pulse Gender & Lifestyle Report is based on real-time data extracted from Firebrand’s online salary portal, eSalarySurvey. The surveying period was the year leading up to and including 20 April 2012 and spanned the marketing, communications, creative, digital, account management and media sectors in Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong and the UK. It is the first study of its kind conducted by Firebrand.

Across the six countries surveyed, in every sector, men are paid more than women—in some cases, significantly so, concluded Firebrand. As the job-sector portion of the study includes staff at all levels, it is important to factor in the likelihood that many senior account management, creative and marketing roles are held by men. This pushes up the median for male salaries.

“This raises the question of why men dominate senior roles,” Greg Savage, Firebrand's global chief executive officer, pointed out in an email interview.

After Hong Kong, some of the least equitable countries in the account management/media/planning job sector are Malaysia, where the discrepancy is 58.3 per cent, and Singapore, where it is 41.7 per cent. Markets like Australia, New Zealand and the UK are less affected, but the bias toward higher male compensation is still present.


Other job sectors differ by markets. In creative and creative services, for example, men earn on average 50 per cent more than women in Singapore and 28.9 per cent more in New Zealand. But in Hong Kong the discrepancy narrows to only 4 per cent.

In marketing/comms/PR/events, Australia has the largest gap, with men in these sectors earning 28.9 per cent more than women, followed by Malaysia (28.6 per cent) and the UK (17.6 per cent). In this sector, countries that have the fairest distribution of compensation for both genders are Hong Kong, where men earn 12 per cent more and New Zealand (12.5 per cent).

Multimedia/design/digital is the only sector which has no gender pay gap in certain countries: New Zealand and the UK. However in Hong Kong, the market where the gap in this sector is widest, men earn 55.6 per cent more than women. In all other countries the pay gap for this sector remains below 15 per cent.

It is, however, when the study drills down to comparing the annual median salaries of men and women in identical job roles that gender bias becomes truly obvious. It is worth noting though that the sample sizes in this part of the study are very small, often under 10.

When these comparisons are made, Malaysia stands out as the most unfair, with Malaysian men earning more than their female colleagues in every category except that of account director. When it comes to compensating creative directors, men earn 27.1 per cent more than women and male marketing managers earn 26.5 per cent more. This bias extends through all sectors, including web design, where men are paid 18.8 per cent more.

It’s also worth nothing that median base salaries in Malaysia are substantially lower for both genders than any other market surveyed. In account management/media/planning for example, men are only paid US$30,000 a year and women US$18,900. In all other countries, men are compensated around US$60,000 a year and women around US$50,000 (with the exception of Singapore, where women earn US$38,900 a year).

In other markets, men do not dominate in every case. Although in the job sector tables, Hong Kong was one of the worst offenders, the gender bias evens out when broken down by job title, with female creative directors out-earning men by 29.5 per cent and female producers earning 38.5 per cent more than men. Account directors and account managers in Hong Kong earn the same pay regardless of gender, and of the job titles surveyed only marketing managers were biased in favour of men with 14.3 per cent.

In this case, it’s safe to infer that men hold more of the senior roles than women in Hong Kong, commented Savage. It’s possible that this is tied to the lack of flexible working hours in Hong Kong. Only 12 per cent of 615 respondents enjoy flexible working hours, the lowest of all the six countries.

In Singapore, women out-earn men in some job roles by more than 10 per cent; namely as copywriters (12.5 per cent), digital marketing managers (11.9 per cent) and marketing managers (16.1 per cent).

Perhaps surprisingly, Australia, New Zealand and the UK are not free from gender bias toward male compensation for the same job functions. This is most acute in the UK, with men out-earning women in four job roles out of six surveyed, indicating that the problem is industry-wide and not entirely geographically led.

“Our experience of recruiting across many countries and several disciplines is that this issue is widespread," Savage commented. "But marketing and communications is our specialisation at Firebrand, and we were surprised to see the extent of the differences depicted in this data,” commented Savage.

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