It’s already more than half a century since Chairman Mao said “women should hold half of the sky”. However, recent research by the international accounting group Grant Thornton, which was based on over 6,000 interviews with business leaders between November 2011 and February 2012, found only a quarter of senior management positions in China (25%) are held by women. Meanwhile, Russia emerges as the country with the highest proportion of women in senior management positions at a much higher 46%.
Based on RMG
’s consulting cases, we have found that female leadership could increase the creativity and stability of the corporate organisationa. Another study, ‘The Bottom Line: Corporate Performance and Women’s Representation on Boards’ (Lois Joy and others, 2007), found that businesses with a greater proportion of women on their boards outperformed rivals in terms of returns on invested capital (66% higher), returns on equity (53% higher) and sales (42% higher). Therefore women in China may have a very large and unrecognised potential to make even greater contributions to the society’s tremendous economic achievement so far.
Also of note is that women in China make up more than half of the University student population. In this regard, the female proportion of regular University places was 37% in 1997, 40.9% in 2000, 44% in 2003, 46% in 2005, 48% in 2007, 50.2% in 2009 and 50.8% in 2010. That means the number of female university graduates is increasing by a remarkable 1% per year. These reports and statistics show that the necessity and urgency to hire and develop female staff in your company can be inferred as being self-evident. In other words, if you don’t start developing the ‘She-Power’ now, you will face a more and more serious situation of talent shortage because other companies are hiring more women, i.e. here’s a resource: use it!
It’s hard to find a Chinese woman, or a woman anywhere for that matter, who exhibits the Thatcherite demeanour of Britain’s ‘Iron Lady’. However, if you scratch beneath the surface you might find an iron hand in a velvet glove. Also, when we compare communications between Chinese men and women, we find men tend to lead the conversation in a strong way and women tend to listen and have more interactions. Chinese women are very good at staying focused on their goals with laser-like precision. In particular, the female’s performance will be resolute when they have to make tough decisions.
The notable second aspect of having female managers is that they are great multi-taskers with high procedural ability to execute. Scientists say that women have an ability to think in a three-dimensional way and their brains can easily deal with many different tasks at the same time. On the other hand, it is said that, men have a ‘lateral’ way of thinking to deal with one problem at a time but with a greater degree of focus. There is another set of data from Grant Thornton’s report that may prove these characteristics even better: Of the executive management positions occupied by women in China, most are COO (Chief Operating Officer) or other types of organisational roles with 45% of the positions and the least occupied role (by women) is that of the CEO occupying only 9% of those surveyed.
Most Chinese women are natural team workers with a high ‘EQ’ (Emotional Intelligence). As well as the inherent female genetic aspects of EQ, Chinese society and the local systems of family and education have encouraged this aspect of Chinese females because traditionally, girls in the family are trained to be the helper, supporter and backbone of the family unit. Therefore, they feel very comfortable when being involved deeply with other team members. In addition, the Chinese lady is known to be very humble and modest. Namely, they are taught to control their emotions very well in different situations as a woman. ‘Emotional Intelligence’ is the ability to identify, assess and control the emotions of oneself, of others, and of groups. Women in China are often educated more than men on this subject by their parents.
Indeed it’s amazing that the above features of women match the modern business needs so well. In fact, not enough effort is placed on promoting and developing the unique contribution women have to make in the modern Chinese business world and the preciousness of the male still overflows into the corporate world.
Every coin has two sides. Your biggest advantage could be a disadvantage to you as well. The stereotypical education of the Chinese lady is also about training women not to be pleased by external gains and not be saddened by personal losses. This concept makes most Chinese women unable to understand their own advantages and position themselves properly within the social or corporate situations. Female leaders who have succeeded still have to be faced with social consensus of the criticisms and accusation for what they have done. Those who are unable to undertake these pressures tend to escape easily. As a result, females sometimes encounter a career bottleneck. In response to this, the HR practitioner could create a special training system for female staff to help explain their unique position and how to get use this to their greatest advantage- both in their careers and in the management of their business. Some successful women in their companies could be the best candidates for a coach, for example, this is might also be a way to build self-confidence for shy Chinese women. It may be a useful thing to do (for an HR Manager for example) to invite the CEO or equivalent to express encouragement towards female executives openly and regularly, (in a form of ‘positive’ discrimination!) Women also tend to be more sensitive (in particular to language according to the G.T. study) than men and these small gestures could help build small eco-systems whereby women have a greater level of equality than in the overall society, which is of course very good for their sense of self-worth.
Secondly, HR departments may take family-related factors into consideration when helping female staff to plan their career paths and setting-up job
goals, because men tend to have a greater sense of mission and responsibility- whilst females may be more concerned with family issues. Influenced by the traditional thought that men work for living and the women tend to be in the home, females must balance their work and life, and this directly leads to the reality that females have to play various social roles. Also, research suggests that female executives with high potential are less incentivised to achieve promotion and career development than their male counterparts. This mentality is more obvious in the later period of their career development curve. A way to alleviate this problem is to improve women’s welfare and working conditions. Examples include flexible working hours (so they can take their children to school, for instance). Another example is from one of our clients: They schedule a Parents-Children Day for all mums within their company. On that day, the company invites the husbands and children to work with the mums together. In this way, the family could understand the pressure and world load of their mums better and consequently reduce stress from the family side.
Last but not least, it’s very important to train the male leaders on communicating with women staff appropriately, considerately and with respect.There are many men who are excellent business leaders but struggle when it comes to the niceties of ‘small talk’ with female colleagues.
One report about society and culture from UNESCO demonstrates that the whole area in Asia-Pacific has lost USD 12-17 billion because of companies’ failure to properly utilise their female talent. How much of the loss is coming from your company? Or put better, how much do you stand to gain, financially and environmentally from better utilisation of the ‘fairer sex’!
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