“Women Hold Up Half The Sky,” a proclamation made by Mao Zedong mainly to prove that women are a resource that ought to be deployed outside of the homes into the professional fields. It is such a powerful statement that affirms that women can do just as much as men can do.
The fight for gender equality is important for China because it permits women to gain the same status in the legal sense as men, and regarding recognition for their value within Chinese culture. This will make them share the equal opportunities, equal pay, and equal work as men.
Gender parity has always been a work in progress, and although always marred with numerous challenges, increased women representation at the Chinese workplace only proves that we are heading in the right direction. During the Mao Zedong era (1949-1976), oppression was turned into opportunities for women. In 1954, the constitution of the People’s Republic of China clearly stated that women should enjoy equal rights as men. As a result, Chinese women who make up 49% of the population and 46% of the labor force have achieved the highest proportion than any other western country in top management positions.
Mao started several conversations, but gender parity was one of the good legacies of communism that he left in China. China has the highest number of women in senior management in East Asia. During the economic reforms in China, the communist values seamlessly merged with the market capitalist system, and this resulted in a flexible business environment allowing businesswomen to thrive.
“No country can ever truly flourish if it stifles the potential of its women and deprives itself of the contributions of half of its citizens” states First Lady Michelle Obama. This is the narrative that China is trying to push by fashioning campaigns to end sex selection, especially against girls. Women in China are greatly closing the gap with men in education, health, and employment although they are greatly underrepresented in the leadership positions, disadvantaged by social and cultural norms, and as a whole are paid less than men.
Even with the continuous public celebration of gender equality in China, most women still had to shoulder the heavy burdens of housework, childcare, and cooking at home. Educated, urban women of over 27 years are often stigmatized. They can be told to forget about furthering their education to concentrate on starting a family before they get too old to get a good husband.
Nowadays, it’s possible for a woman who succeeds to go to college to even finish her Master’s degree before the age of 25years. It is also quite possible for such an achieving woman to find a husband and pursue their career. China has several encouraging developments for women, such as a big number are receiving a college education and also taking GMAT entrance test for business schools worldwide.
The growing number of Chinese women in the workforce is mainly because the women work both in the urban and rural areas which are not always the representation in developed economies. For instance in the US, most of the working women are found in the urban areas. China has great opportunities in the rural areas with over half of the country’s population living in the rural areas.
Women have long been recognized as assets in the Chinese workforce. It is also important to note that Chinese women make up more than half of the female billionaires who are self-made. This is quite an achievement and clearly shows that Chinese women are ready to take on the major roles and responsibilities head-on and churn out the best results.
Modern Chinese Society and Family
The family has always been the basic unit of the society and also doubles up as an important economic unit. 74% of Chinese people live in rural areas whereby the traditional family was made up of a man who was the head of the family, sons, their wives, and their children. Membership to a certain clan was as a result of owning common surnames. A village would comprise of around five clans.
The main source of wealth in China was land. This was equally divided amongst the sons if the head of the home happened to die. As the population in China kept growing, the land grew smaller and smaller, and many people became poorer. During half of the 20th century, the family was under stress. Rural conditions became so bad. Income was low, and the food was scarcer. The mortality rate was skyrocketing due to the poor healthcare system, especially for the peasants. It didn’t help that there was increased warfare, foreign invasion, and civil unrest.
The communist revolution in 1949 helped stabilize the family. The private ownership of land was no longer allowed, but each peasant was at least given a small plot of land to farm. Healthcare was improved, there was a stabilized food supply, and the life expectancy greatly increased. The living conditions are now way better for a peasant than before, and they at least have access to education. These are some of the factors that have improved the quality of life and also provided security for the family.
The case is slightly different in urban family lives which mainly comprise of parents and children. Most often than not, both parents go to work and the children stay at the day-care centers or schools. In some instances, parents are forced to work in different cities and only have to meet on rare occasions. Even with such problems, family life in most cities is very stable and with stronger family ties between parents and the children.
Chinese women in the Workforce
As one woman once stated, “we do not come across as differential.” More and more young Chinese women are moving out of the countryside, thrusting themselves into the corporate world, furthering their studies either at home or abroad, and also doing big in business. The standard of evaluating a Chinese woman’s life is no longer on how fast you get a good husband after school. When the Communist Party came to power in 1949, elevating women was at the center of their manifesto.
Mao certainly left such a mark by promoting women into jobs previously designated for men. According to the 2014 Hurun Global Rich list, 17 out of 358 US-dollar billionaires living in China are women, and 19% of Chinese women in management positions are CEOs. This might look small, but it’s quite big considering several years back, the women’s role was only to take care of the family. The women in China are hungrily looking for that career ladder so that they can confidently climb it.
Jin Yu, a partner with McKinsey in Beijing, said that there is a lot of female talent and also stated that they need improvement in how China nurtures female talent for leadership positions. Most of the Chinese women also prefer to work in state-owned companies due to shorter and predictable working hours than in the private sectors.
For Chinese woman to maintain a high position, her marriage and family may suffer because of the cultural expectations that dictate what a woman should be doing. It is hard for women to “have it all” if their families are unsupportive of their work.
China is growing very fast, and there is a lot of opportunities for start-ups and less red tape than in most of the mature economies. Plus, finance is less of a problem compared to the west.
To succeed in China, you need to be better than a man, according to Ms. Kang. This is the attitude that most of the women in China have picked, working while studying, enrolling for a Ph.D. degree after a Masters, and being more aggressive so as not to miss opportunities in the market. China has plenty of young female entrepreneurs at around 29 million according to Meng Xiaosi, VP of the All-China Women Federation. Some of them are very rich according to Forbes list of worldwide self-made billionaires, 14 of whom are Chinese women.
Working Chinese Women and Family
Even with so much going on in these women’s lives, it amazing how they still find it possible to fit in the family. Chinese women are entitled to three months maternity leave although they don’t always get that. Most of the women have incredibly supportive grandparents, who help with the little ones as they go back to work. If the grandparents are not available, there are plenty of affordable nannies for hire.
Choosing to start a family is mostly not easy for any working woman. Most of the Chinese women have chosen to stop at one kid (not because of the one child rule) but because if you have more, it might be quite hard to manage. Looking after just a single kid already takes up a lot of time and resources. From monitoring homework to moving around for school activities, taking care of a child can take a toll on women even if they do have supportive families and husbands.
It doesn’t get any easier for a working mom since Chinese men would still expect them to cater for the child single-handedly with or without a job. These are deep-rooted attitudes that go long before the Mao era. It is very hard to shift them, and the men also find it pretty hard to keep up with a woman who is earning big. They would even ask the wife to give up their job so as to take care of the family. However, attitudes are changing with younger generations.
Successful women are also finding it hard to find lifetime partners. Success for women is proving a threat to their social life with most of them noting that it is quite lonely up there. Most of China’s highest achieving female figures are asking if they are doing the right thing by fighting for the gender parity. Sylvia Ann Hewlett and Ripa Rashid noted in their recent book “Winning the War of Talent in Emerging Markets” that, “the concept of work-life balance, once foreign…is an increasingly popular topic of conversation.” This is a good sign for not only Chinese women, but Chinese society as a whole.
The future of careers for Chinese women
The Sky is the limit for women in China. Most of the women in China are hungry for more knowledge and opportunities. They yearn to travel more, touch a soul or two, and give back to the society in a small way or otherwise. They are no longer intimidated with professions such as medicine, law, science, or even politics. They are out there to succeed and not to be labeled mediocre.
Laura Bates of Everyday Sexism once stated: “Sexism is a white, western movement that needs to be exported to other countries, so that women can be told they are oppressed and how to live their lives.” This is quite a misconception because so many women are championing feminism and affirming their mark in the society and proving that they can define their own path in life.
Some of these women include Wang Xiaoshuang, a sociology graduate from Hongkong who started Green two years ago in China. This enlightens young people on sexuality and relationships using social media. This greatly helps young women to build their confidence and remind them that they are more than the Chinese social norms suggest and can even be better at what men are doing as long as they give it a try. China’s economy will only keep growing if they maintain women in the workplace.
Just like any other countries, China still has its obstacles that it needs to overcome such as lower pay for women, media campaigns against ‘leftover” women, and gender discrimination. This will help enable a welcoming workplace for both men and women. However, it is quite refreshing to witness the highly developed entrepreneurial spirit of the Chinese women. For any aspiring young women, the energy in China is all you can ever need to push you to the next level.
China is such an inspirational place to undertake an internship or even a career. I would highly recommend it because there are so many other countries that can learn from it for it is the perfect environment for women who want to test themselves linguistically, culturally and professionally.