Businesswomen in China

Many Asian countries with a Confucian-based value system consider men to be superior leaders to women – whether in the family or in the boardroom. In countries such as Japan, the local executive workforce is dominated almost entirely by men, and foreign women can be perceived as an awkward anomaly. China, too, has been a historically male-dominated society since its origin 5,000 years ago.

Like many other aspects of today’s China, however, these gender roles are changing at a breakneck pace. Officially, women have the same rights as men in the workplace. According to the South China Morning Post, women currently hold more than half of the senior management roles in mainland companies, a ranking that places China first in the world. We are pleased to encounter more and more women in reasonably senior roles in large, Chinese organizations – especially in the bigger, more modern cities. The growing gender diversity among executives makes it tempting to assume that women have gained full equality in the workplace.  But have they?

Female Exec Data

The following are some extracts I discovered elsewhere:

“One recent study by National University of Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy and the New York-based Asia Society found that for every five Chinese men who rises to a senior position in the workplace, only one woman achieves the same level of advancement. The ratio is even more lopsided inside the Communist Party.”

“In a 2010 survey of women’s social status in China by the All-China Women’s Federation (the Chinese government’s women’s advocacy organization), 61.6% of men and 54.6% of women said that ‘men belong in public life and women belong at home,’ an increase of 7.7 and 4.4 percentage points respectively from 2000.”

“In the World Economic Forum’s gender equality index – an annual ranking of countries by their ability to develop, retain and attract female talent – China’s ranking declined to 69th last year, down from 57th in 2008.”

“It is said that one in four Chinese women say they were denied a job because they are female, according to a broad survey.”

“The findings, from a survey of 3,000 women, found that more than one in five women said employers cut women’s salaries when they had children, with one in nine reporting losing their jobs for having a baby.”

Looking at the above excerpts, it seems like there is still a long way to go before China can achieve gender equality in the workplace. Major obstacles still prevent women from running their own business or moving into higher management. The traditional Confucian concept that males are naturally the decision-makers still is widely accepted nationwide. Although traditional values have been shaken by the economic and social changes of the past thirty years, some habits and mental attitudes die hard.

Chinese society is changing dramatically and women, particularly the young and better educated are motivated to meet higher professional goals and become successful business executives and entrepreneurs. Although problems still exist, it is gratifying to witness the improvement of women’s education, employment, salaries and social status in China. Nine Chinese businesswomen appear in the Forbes Magazine’s 2013 list of the World’s 100 Most Powerful Women, and they are hailed as role models, particularly in the feminine press, and are presented as the face of the new China. In a country where business has essentially been a man’s world, it is heartening to see that women are increasingly able to challenge deep-seated stereotypes. Chinese society is, however, changing rapidly and women, particularly the younger and better educated, are determined to reach the professional and personal goals they have set for themselves.

 The transformation takes time and remains to be seen.

 Lilian Lian

 The University of Hong Kong

Further Reading:

Female job seekers in China experience sex discrimination (a report):

Doing Business in China: Tips for Women:

 Mainland Chinese women top the world in holding senior business roles, survey shows:

 The Role of Women in Chinese Management:

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