There are over 600 million women living in China (more than in any other nation on the planet). With such high figures, you’d expect that women must occupy a crucial role in Chinese business. And you’d be right.
The question then is whether the Chinese government is getting the maximum from its female workforce? As you’ll see, the answer is not a simple “yes” or “no.”
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Why are people talking about women in Chinese business?
China has enjoyed the most impressive economic growth of any major nation in the last century. However, the government recognized that China needed to focus on gender equality in business for this growth to continue.
In 2012 the Chinese government announced its commitment to bringing gender equality to the Red Dragon, in its Gender Equality and Women’s Development in China paper. The Chinese state outlined seven focus areas in its proposal, with Women and the Economy number one on the list.
The state’s plan was to encourage “women to start business[es] and become re-employed” and it proposed a number of tactics to realize its ambition:
- Improving the employment structure for women
- Safeguarding the rights and interests of rural women working in cities
- Enhancing social security for women in urban areas
So, have the steps taken by the Chinese state expanded the role of Chinese women in business? Below, I explain all.
What is the role of women in twentieth-century Chinese business?
Chinese women have traditionally controlled family finances. The role of women in looking after the family purse strings suggests a cultural disposition towards giving them managerial roles, but is this reflected in their role in Chinese business? Yes.
Women occupy 36% of management positions in China – considerably ahead of the Asian average of 28%. In addition to this, a report by US accounting organization Grant Thornton stated that “mainland Chinese women topped the world in terms of holding senior business management roles.” The report found that 51% of senior management roles in China are held by women, higher than the US (20%), UK (19%), and Japan (7%) combined.
Management roles aren’t the only area that Chinese women are better off than their US counterparts. While there is still a gender pay gap in China it’s smaller than the one in the US – in the US women earn 80% of what men do, while in China it’s 84%.
So, what’s the role of women in twentieth-century Chinese business? They occupy more senior positions and earn more money than their peers in the world’s largest Western economy.
What does the role of women mean for Chinese business?
Women are already excelling in Chinese business, however, as I mentioned earlier in this article, the government remains unsatisfied. Does this mean then that China business is going to become dominated by female leaders?
China already has a higher proportion of female workers in its economy than that seen by men in many developed countries. But that’s not all. Chinese women set up more online companies than Chinese men, and make up 64% of the world’s self-made businesswomen. This means that China is truly one of the best places in the world to be an entrepreneur as a woman.
With women continuing to reduce the pay and representation gap in China, you can expect female leaders to enjoy an even more important role in Chinese business in the coming years.
Are women in Chinese business being held back by the state?
Domestic Chinese business is booming because of the role women play in it, with the state making it easier for women to break into business and start their own companies in mainland China. But could the state be doing more to help women crack the international market? Maybe.
China is one of the most tech-savvy nations on the planet and major companies are helping women to secure roles in the STEM industry – as evidenced by the Samsung STEM Girls program, the seeds of which were sewn by the China Women’s Development Foundation. However, China also has more restrictive internet policies than many developed nations, making it harder for Chinese women to start an international business.
That’s not to say it’s impossible for women in China to start a global company. For example, if a Chinese woman wants to start an online company, there are a number of providers and payment gateways in China that gives them access to international markets.
The online retail giant Shopify recently opened its doors in China, building a Shenzen-based team in an attempt to focus on Chinese entrepreneurs. And the growth of JD.com’s Baitiao online payment provider has made it easier than ever to purchase goods online. As major brands occupy the online retail space, more and more opportunities arise for entrepreneurs, women or otherwise, in China.
But there’s a catch. What the Chinese state’s policies do mean, however, is that it’s trickier to use non-Chinese resources to start their company. The result of this is that while Westerners can build a business by using manufacturing and resources from China, Chinese women do not get the same level of access to the digital and non-digital materials available in Western markets.
Does this matter? Not necessarily. China has many of its own resources helping women break into business and start their own companies. However, the result of making it difficult for Chinese women to use Western tools is twofold:
- It means they have less raw materials to work with when getting into business
- Their businesses may have more of a regional than feel than a global appeal
Ultimately, none of this might matter to everyday Chinese businesswomen, as their interests may lie solely in building a Chinese business. Still, though, it does feel a shame for the state to make it more difficult for them to take their company global.
Chinese women are playing a crucial role in the Red Dragon’s businesses, occupying significant roles and creating a wave of new online companies. While there’s much the Chinese government is doing to help its female workforce, there’s still plenty it can do and the policies it selects over the next few years will be crucial in shaping how far Chinese women can go in business.