Chinese Women and Work: The Sky's the Limit

The Economist assesses the lives of career-driven women in China, where state-owned companies offer shorter hours and more time to raise children but less room for advancement than the private sector:

Women make up 49% of China’s population and 46% of its labour force, a higher proportion than in many Western countries. In large part that is because Mao Zedong, who famously said that “women hold up half the sky”, saw them as a resource and launched a campaign to get them to work outside the home. China is generally reckoned to be more open to women than other East Asian countries, with Taiwan somewhat behind, South Korea further back and Japan the worst. And its women expect to be taken seriously; as one Chinese female investment banker in Beijing puts it, “we do not come across as deferential”.

Young Chinese women have been moving away from the countryside in droves and piling into the electronics factories in the booming coastal belt, leading dreary lives but earning more money than their parents ever dreamed of. Others have been pouring into universities, at home and abroad, and graduating in almost the same numbers as men. And once they have negotiated China’s highly competitive education system, they want to get on a career ladder and start climbing. The opportunities are there. Avivah Wittenberg-Cox, who runs a consultancy, 20-first, that helps companies improve the balance between the sexes in senior jobs, points out that China already has a higher proportion of women in the top layers of management than many Western countries.

The piece follows a September report in The Economist on increasing numbers of women rising to the top of the corporate ladder in emerging economies, including China. As the article points out, however, a sharp gender divide still exists among China’s political elite: Just 13 of the 204 newly elected members of the CCP Central Committee are women.

For more CDT coverage of women in China, see also “Brisk Business for China’s Female Bodyguards, Spies” and “Leta Hong Fincher: China’s “Leftover” Women.”