More women shattering glass ceiling

By Andrew Moody and Yu Hang(China Daily)
Updated: 2015-06-01 07:07:04

Ma Yingying, CEO of Lux Shine Media. [Photo/China Daily]

Ma Yingying says women are increasingly making their mark in Chinese business. The 33-year-old chief executive officer and founder of Lux Shine Media Company, which stages modernized performances of Peking Opera, says there is now a complete break from the male-dominated business environment of the past.

"There are many excellent female entrepreneurs around me. I also see that more women are starting their own business in today's China.

"I think women have many natural advantages. They are detail-driven, they have great judgment and they have an innate sense of how to negotiate. In ancient China, women were supposed to follow their parents, husbands and children around. Not anymore."

Twenty years after Hillary Clinton addressed the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing on women's rights when she was first lady of the United States, there is now evidence of women advancing in business life.

According to the 2015 Women in Business Survey by business advisers Grant Thornton, there are now more women in business leadership roles in China than many countries in the West.

Nearly a third-32 percent-of business leadership positions in China are held by women, compared with 20 percent in the US.

China is, in fact, ahead of all major European economies, with Italy at 24 percent, France at 23 percent, the United Kingdom at 20 percent and Germany at 16 percent.

African countries, although faring well by international standards, are also behind China, with Botswana at 30 percent, South Africa at 28 percent and Nigeria at 21 percent.

Latvia is the most female friendly, with 40 percent of its business leaders being women, closely followed by Russia at 39 percent.

Former TV presenter Ma, who was speaking in her office at the Kun Tai International Plaza in Beijing, said there has been a change in attitude in China as the economy has opened up.

Scarlett Li, CEO of Zebra Media. [Photo/China Daily]

"I do believe that marriage and family are not the only way women can show value now. Women of the 21st century are becoming more and more independent. They too can work independently and realize their potential, as men have done."

Dominic King, global economics and research manager at Grant Thornton in London, who worked on the Women in Business Survey, said one of the reasons that women are playing a strong role in management in China is the strong childcare infrastructure that is common in emerging market economies.

"People tend to stay near their families so their parents can look after the children, enabling women to go out to work. What we are seeing in China is these extended family units breaking down with people moving to the cities. This might make things more difficult for women in the future."

However, at the Media Creative Park, entrepreneur Scarlett Li said China is not necessarily such a benign environment for female entrepreneurs.

The 43-year-old founder and CEO of Zebra Media, which stages high-profile musical festivals, insists she has often faced open prejudice.

"I had dinner recently with a man from a very famous venture capital company in China and he told me straight to my face that he would not invest in any female-led business," she said.

"It is not the first time this has happened either. The first time was from a woman venture capitalist. At least they said it to my face. If I meet with another 20 VCs, they might not give me the real reason."

Li accepts such reactions are not necessarily discrimination but purely commercial.

"I think it comes down to economic calculation. They are working on the assumption that at some point you might have children, so the business won't be your main focus.

"You have to be strong in China as a female executive because your mother, your family and your peer group will tell you your main responsibilities are marriage and children."

Yang Yaning, chairman of Hong Kong Key Point Capital Group. [Photo/China Daily]

Ma Li, associate professor of organizational management at Guanghua School of Management at Peking University, said economics factors can still play a big part.

"When employers are thinking from a pure economics perspective, it is better to hire males than females because females on the whole are going to work less than males because at some point they are going to have babies and a career break."

Paid maternity leave is 98 days in China, compared with 16 months in Sweden and 12 to 14 months in Germany, where it is possible for women to take up to three years' leave, if part of it is unpaid.

King at Grant Thornton said there may be an inverse correlation between the length of maternity leave and female advancement, with Germany having one of the lowest proportions of women in leadership positions at 16 percent.

"If someone takes three years away from work, there is a real danger of them falling behind in skills and there is also the issue of whether someone really wants to go back into the workplace after that sort of break."

In China many women now have prominent roles in business and feature in the Fortune Top 50 Most Powerful Women in Business internationally.

In the Grant Thornton research, however, China does not fare so well in terms of the proportion of women in senior management occupying the role of chief executive officer.

Only 7 percent of them get the top job, which is higher than the 6 percent in either the UK or the United States, but is well behind Germany at 11 percent and Italy and France at 14 percent.

Hillary Clinton, former United States secretary of state. [Photo/China Daily]



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