The view from here

08 July 2016

Author: Summer Tang

The view from here: China is getting more women into work. But the next step is in HR’s hands

China is getting more women into work. But the next step is in HR’s hands

The changing Chinese economy – which means the information and knowledge era, as well as the boom in the service economy – has led to an environment in which men and women theoretically have the opportunity to participate equally in the economy and share value creation. Today, the female employment rate in China is as high as 73 per cent.
There are growing numbers of highly educated and goal-driven professional women across the country. A recent survey by a Chinese recruitment agency found that most millennial women believe they are as ambitious as men.
Yet despite the more mature philosophy, long-lasting perceptions around men and women’s roles mean working women in China still face challenges that will take time to overcome. The societal pressure for women to get married at a young age persists, and those who fail to do so by the time they are 27 are labelled sheng nv (‘left-over women’). The more successful a woman is, the more difficult it is for her to get married as it is considered to be ‘stealing’ the husband’s job or thunder.
What’s more, the fact that Chinese people place great importance on a mother’s presence for a child’s development places a burden on working women. Even highly educated women sometimes make sacrifices because there is no flexibility from either their family or company.
For many, the workforce does not provide a sense of belonging, but this is something organisations can take steps to address. First, they need to reinforce the benefits package for female workers, including but not limited to creating a more comfortable environment (such as secure lactation rooms) and introducing flexible hours for working mothers.
The abolition of the one-child policy poses a significant challenge as more and more corporations are beginning to develop new maternity leave policies, rather than implementing better benefits packages. In some cases, when it comes to internal promotion opportunities, while men are evaluated on potential or performance, plans to get married and have children are two of the major criteria for female candidates.
Training or coaching programmes are also needed around female leadership, gender issues and performance. That way, women can learn to manage and use their strengths confidently. By supporting women in management roles, businesses can help decrease communication costs, improve operational efficiency and create a positive working atmosphere.
Finally, leading companies must coach counterpart employees to change their traditional perspectives and support female colleagues. Some tasks are often still seen as the so-called ‘man’s domain’; for example, attending a professional business dinner or undertaking a site visit. If I work overtime in the office, high-ranked directors sometimes tell me I should ‘go on a date’, whereas overtime is considered normal for men.
Many businesses in China have realised the importance of diversity and inclusion – for instance, in the construction industry, they have started to make considerable progress in recruitment by offering flexible career models, benefits packages for dual career couples and support for women in leadership roles. But many more now need to follow this example, so that women are able to build their confidence, become more outspoken and embrace challenges in the workplace.
Summer Tang
Management associate at Hilti Global and graduate of the CEMS international business education programme (