Sure there’s that niggling problem of the millions of missing girl babies, and goodness knows there’s still some NPCs with outdated sexist opinions, but generally women are doing great for themselves in China and – barring a couple of hurdles that still need to be conquered – represent a talent pool the likes the world has never known. At least that’s what a study from the Center for Work-Life Policy (CWLP) proposes.
The study by the CWLP, called The Battle for Female Talent in China, mainly centers on how companies can take advantage of a talent pool they may have been ignoring: China’s women, who are – in some cases – better equipped to take on management positions than China’s men.
Not being the head of a multinational, I was more interested in the stats they presented on Chinese women in general. It seems like Mao’s axioms and a backbone of laws pushing for equality (at least on the surface) has helped Chinese women achieve startling rises in position – not only compared to where they stood pre-1949, but also to the rest of the modern world.
For instance, we already knew that China has the most self-made female billionaires in the world, did you know they were one-upping other countries in these areas as well?
- China has the highest female labor force participation of all BRIC nations, with nearly 70% of women in the workforce.
- 76% of Chinese women aspire to top jobs, compared to 52% among their US counterparts
- 91% of Chinese businesses have women in senior leadership (the second highest percentage in the world after the Philippines)
- 32% of senior management is comprised of women, greater than the 23% in the U.S. and 19% in the U.K.
- 21% of seats in national parliament are held by women, as opposed to just 16% in the U.S..
- Unlike most other places in the world, childcare is comparatively easy. “Working mothers can aim high, in part, because they have more shoulders to lean on than their American and European peers. Thanks to China’s “onechild” policy, a female professional can rely on four grandparents to care for each grandchild. There’s no social stigma in sending one’s child to daycare, boarding school or to live with a grandparent during the workweek.”
That’s the good news, now the bad:
- Only 20% of women working full-time out-earn their spouse, as opposed to 28% in Brazil, 39% in the U.S. and 42% in the UAE.
- Almost half of women reported experiencing biases in the workforce that made them want to disengage or quit their jobs – this is despite 70% saying they love their work, 76% being willing to go the extra mile and 85% expressing loyalty to their employers.
- A quarter of Chinese women job seekers have reported being denied a job because of their gender, one in 25 have been forced to sign job contracts banning them from getting married or pregnant.
- Female managers face mandatory retirement at age 50 (as opposed to 55 for guys).
Politically, there’s also the caveat that the only female in the State Council (the highest decision making body in China) retired in 2008. The only other woman where it may even matter (i.e. the Politburo, State Council or PLA head) is Liu Yandong. That can hardly count as women being influential in government.
And there’s also the problem of elder-care. While Chinese women have it easy when it comes to help with their children, they get it back in spades when it comes to the older generation. Says the study:
The pressure of being a good daughter or daughter-in-law can produce more guilt than the pressure to be a good mother or wife. The statement “I feel guilty about the trade-off between work and my eldercare responsibilities” in the CWLP survey elicited an “agree” response from a whopping 88 percent of Chinese women. The only other country that came anywhere close to that figure was the UAE, at 73 percent.
Many Chinese women also provide financial support to their parents or in-laws. The CWLP data show that 58 percent of Chinese women lend a monetary helping hand to the tune of 18 percent of their annual income. One professional woman we interviewed contributes 30 percent of her paycheck—and that’s not unusual. In a
country like China, where state support for the elderly can’t keep up with the soaring cost of living and the social security net is uncertain, contributions from adult children aren’t just appreciated but are necessary.
So what can be done? The study obviously focuses on ways companies can help (become “talent magnets” or “claiming and sustaining female ambition”), while leaving the sticky problems of policy and culture alone. As with gender issues all over the world, there’s no one set answer (the study provides 20 or so possible case study solutions), but I suppose at least knowing where we stand is a start.