Women in China: ambition versus tradition

Sylvia Ann Hewlett has offered a glimpse of her new study with Ripa Rashid into the aspirations and fears of Chinese women in business.

As she writes in her Harvard Business Review blog, the lesson for companies that wish to tap this talent pool is a simple one:

Supporting China’s qualified women isn’t just a nice thing to do. It’s absolutely necessary.

The full study comes out on March 22, but Hewlett – whose research we’ve highlighted before – offers a glimpse of it. (Full disclosure: I’ve spoken at events organised by Hewlett and her Center for Work-Life Policy.)

Some of the most striking findings include:

1. Chinese women are more ambitious than their American counterparts: “Sixty-five per cent of the more than 1,000 college-educated women surveyed consider themselves very ambitious, compared to 36 per cent of their U.S. counterparts; 76 per cent aspire to a top job versus 52 per cent of Americans.”

2. Caring for elderly relatives (rather than children) may be one issue holding them back: “Ninety-five per cent already have eldercare responsibilities. ‘Daughterly guilt’ affects an extraordinary 88 per cent”.

Some of those interviewed by Hewlett and Rashid suggest this is reason enough for multinationals to tailor their global policies for women – and reap the benefits of increase loyalty from female Chinese employees.

Patti Waldmeir, the FT’s Shanghai bureau chief, wrote last year about the specific advantages and challenges for Chinese women in business:

Mao Zedong set out to make China a global model of gender equality, and although he failed at so much else, he largely succeeded in transforming Chinese society into a world where women think they are at least equal to men – and many men seem to agree.

Hewlett takes this historical parallel even further back. As she writes in her blog:

[In China], communism’s push for gender equality still confronts deeply entrenched Confucian values, and the tug-of-war between ambition and tradition can derail even the most motivated high-performing women.

RSS News