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Women in Business in China

By Keith Warburton

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By Keith Warburton

Read Time

Global Business Culture runs a lot of China cultural awareness training programmes and the issue of women in business in China is always raised. Some of the areas we would discuss on a cultural awareness training programme are highlighted below.

If you are considering a business venture in China or a possible expansion of your operations, culture is a key factor you will need to account for. In this section, we outline some of the key issues which relate to the position of women in business in China.

Higher Education

Prior to the 1950s, there were quite stringent roles within Chinese Culture, and the vast majority of workers were male. However, much has changed since then thanks to Communist China’s support for gender equality and the women’s liberation movement. Historically, men were given priority when it came to funding and accessing higher education, but statistics now indicate that there are more females attending university than ever before and, in fact, there are now more women in higher education than men.

While there remains a gender gap in the Chinese workforce interestingly that difference is still fractionally smaller than that of the US.

Gender Pay Gap

Although the minimum wage conditions state that the lowest acceptable rates of pay should apply equally to both men and women in business in China, this is far from a reality and more of an aspiration. While strides have been taken to close the differences in pay between men and women, there is still a vast gender pay gap in China. A quick look at the Global Gender Gap Index will confirm this as fact as China is still rated in the lowest quadrant.

Retirement Age

The early retirement age for women in business in China can limit the potential opportunities for advancement and career development, and it also reduces the value of their pension or social security benefits. Women will normally retire between 5-10 years earlier than their male counterparts.

Doing business in China, Women in Business China

Perception of Gender Roles

Due to the traditional perception of gender roles in China, women are largely still expected to commit to family and child-related duties. While there are many successful female entrepreneurs, a quick dig into the articles about these successful women in business in China will show that it is the same women that are being cited in the news as success stories. In some cases, because family is still of immense importance, there are female CEOs and Presidents who have simply inherited their positions as their fathers passed the reins of their empire down through the family lines. While this is not true for all cases, and indeed, a small number of female entrepreneurs have made a huge success of their careers to date, there is still a long way to go in terms of equality in the workplace and the acceptance of women in management. Chinese cultural norms tend to place women at a disadvantage, and while there is a shift taking place, it is occurring slowly.

Women in Leadership Roles

Irrespective of their participation in the workforce in China, there are not many women who hold significant leadership roles. In a typical boardroom there could be 8 senior executives, only one of which is female. (However, when you consider the state of play globally this is something that is still typical of C-level executives and boardrooms in many countries around the world.)

Doing business in China, Women in Business China

Recruiting Women

A quick look at the recruitment activities and the content of job descriptions is very telling indeed. It is still legal for employers who are placing ads for staff to list a preference for male candidates. Another typical requirement for people looking to hire women that could be considered discriminatory in some parts of the world is the listing of physical attributes, such as weight and height, along with outlining a requirement for them to be married with a child in order to qualify for the position.

Non-Chinese Women Doing Business in China

Foreign females who come to do business in China are treated differently. Perhaps it’s because the Chinese appreciate that females from different cultures are respected in their own countries or perhaps it is because they appreciate the importance of being respectful to all their international business partners. They will treat foreign business women well and are usually highly respectful.

Despite the obvious growth in China’s wealth, the country has been consistently dropping places on the global gender gap index. As many people will be aware, historically, China had a one-child per family policy, and employers would only ever need to pay a female one-round of maternity pay. However, because they are now encouraging women to have two children, many feel this has been of detriment to women in the workplace, and that it might deter people from hiring women in the future.

It will be interesting to see how women’s role in the workforce develops over the coming years as China becomes increasingly outward looking and seeks to take on the role of a global thought-leader.

If you would like to discuss how Global Business Culture can help you improve your effectiveness when working with China through targeted China cultural awareness training please get in touch.

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Women in Business in China