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.

This blog is no longer updated but it remains open as an archive.

The 'Women at the Top' blog is part of a series of online and print publications that focuses on women's achievements in business. With up-to-date news and incisive analysis, the blog will provoke discussion on the role of the world's most prominent businesswomen. www.ft.com/womenblog

For more Women at the Top news, video interviews and other features, visit www.ft.com/womenatthetop


About our bloggers

Liz Bolshaw

Liz Bolshaw is a business journalist and editor. She has been a successful book publisher, online editor, magazine editor and publisher.

She was launch editor of the Europe-wide online community Entrepreneur Country, has published magazines for PwC, 3i, dunhill and Bafta, and launched The Sharp Edge, a magazine for and about entrepreneurs, with Duncan Bannatyne. She is a regular contributor to Thomson Reuters’ Venture Capital Journal.

Her last project for the Financial Times was as editor of the paper’s Business Education magazine.

Rebecca Knight

Rebecca Knight is a freelance journalist based in Boston. She writes regularly for the FT on business education, entrepreneurship, and management.

Andrew Hill

Andrew Hill is an associate editor and the management editor of the FT. He was City editor of the FT and editor of the daily Lombard column on British business and finance from September 2006 to December 2010.

He was the FT’s financial editor from June 2005 to September 2006, with overall responsibility for coverage of companies and markets. Before becoming financial editor, he was the FT’s comment & analysis editor, in charge of the paper’s opinion and features pages.

From 1999 to 2003, he was the FT’s New York bureau chief. He joined the FT in 1988 and has also worked as foreign news editor, UK companies reporter and correspondent in Brussels and Milan.

Pino Bethencourt

Pino Bethencourt is a professor and leadership expert at IE Business School in Madrid. She is also an author and executive coach.

Lynda Gratton

Lynda Gratton is professor of management practice at London Business School.

Linda Tarr-Whelan

Linda Tarr-Whelan, former ambassador to the UN commission on the status of women, is a Demos distinguished senior fellow.