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2/26/2015

InChinasModernEconomy,aRetroPushAgainstWomenNYTimes.com

http://nyti.ms/19KMXvv

ASIA PACIFIC

In China Modern conom, a Retro Puh Againt


Women
DIDI KIRSTN TATLOW and MICHAL FORSYTH

F. 20, 2015

BEIJINGFreshoutofcollege,AngelaLiwasproudofherjobasatellerat
thestateownedChinaEverbrightBankmaybeitwasntexciting,butithad
prospects.Afterayearandahalfsheappliedforapromotion,alongwitha
malecolleaguewhohadjoinedwithher.
Hegotit.Shedidnot.
Ourbosscametotalktomeafterwards,saidMs.Li,a25yearoldwith
scrapedbackhairandaquietgaze.Hesaid,Itsgoodthatyougirlstakeyour
workseriously.Butyoushouldbefocusingonfindingaboyfriend,getting
married,havingakid.
Ms.Liquit.
Icouldcompeteintermsofability,butnotintermsofgender,shesaid.
ChinaisoftenheldupasamodelforwomeninAsia.Womenmadegreat
stridesintheearlydecadesofCommunistrule,andthegovernmenthastaken
painstoportraywomenasequaltomen,startingwithChairmanMaos
declarationthatwomenholduphalfthesky.
Morerecently,asChinahasshiftedtoamarketeconomy,admiring
reportsofwonderwomen,oftenpromulgatedbystatemedia,suggestthat
Chinesewomenhavemadeitinbusiness.
Buttheeconomicboomthathascreatedopportunitiesforwomenhasalso
fosteredaresurgenceoflongrepressedtraditionalvalues.Moreandmore
menandwomensayawomansplaceisinthehome,wealthymentake
mistressesinacontemporaryrepriseoftheconcubinesystem,andpressure

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2/26/2015

InChinasModernEconomy,aRetroPushAgainstWomenNYTimes.com

forwomentomarryyoungisintense.Intheoffice,Socialisteraegalitarianism
hasbeenreplacedbyopensexism,insomecasesreinforcedbythelaw.
Themediahasbeenpublicizingindividualcasesofsuccessfulwomen,
butoverallthereisntspaceforwomentodevelopintheeconomicrealm,
saidFengYuan,aprominentChinesefeminist.Womensstatushasnot
improved,andinsomeareashasregressed.
Chinesewomenarelosinggroundintheworkforcecomparedwithmen,
theirrepresentationfallingsteadilywitheachrunguptheprofessionalladder.
Womenmakeup44.7percentoftheworkforce,butjust25.1percentofpeople
withpositionsofresponsibility,accordingtoChinas2010census.
Attheverytop,theirsharefallsstillfurther.
AccordingtocorporaterecordsexaminedbyTheNewYorkTimes,fewer
than1in10boardmembersofChinastop300companiesarewomen.That
measure,significantlysmallerthantheproportionofwomenoncorporate
boardsintheUnitedStatesandmuchofEurope,isbasedonareviewofthe
boardsofdirectorsofeverycompanyintheCSI300index,Chinasequivalent
totheS.&P.500,whichincludesawideswathoftheeconomyfromminingto
pharmaceuticals.
AmongtheCSI300companies,126havenowomenontheirboards,
accordingtotheir2013annualreports,thelatestavailable.
Wecallitthestickyfloor,Ms.Fengsaid.Thereisaglassceilinghere
too,butmostwomenneverevengetoffthestickyfloor.
Bycomparison,womenhold19.2percentofthedirectorshipsonS.&P.
500companies,accordingtoCatalyst,anonprofitgroupthatseekstopromote
womeninbusiness.
InEurope,about18percentofboardmembersintheContinents610
biggestcompaniesarewomen,accordingtotheEuropeanCommission.
Whiletheadvantagesofhavingwomenintheboardroomarebroadly
acceptedinglobalbusinesscircles,inChinatheideameetswith
incomprehension,evenboredom,amongbusinessleaders.
Womenasdirectorswasanoblequestion,saidJiangZhinan,a
spokesmanforthestateownedAluminumCorporationofChina,butonethat

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2/26/2015

InChinasModernEconomy,aRetroPushAgainstWomenNYTimes.com

hiscompanyhadnotconsidered.Thecompanyhasnowomenonitseight
memberboard.
DongfangElectric,oneoftheworldsbiggestmakersofelectricpower
turbines,alsohasnowomenonitsninememberboard.
Weveneverthoughtaboutit,saidZhangLinchao,thedirectorofthe
companysgeneraloffices.Askedifthecompanywouldanswerquestionson
thesubject,hedeclined.Itsirrelevant,hesaid.
Thepatternisespeciallypronouncedatstateownedcompanies,where
thegovernmentcouldsimplyorderhigherfemaleparticipationifitwanted.Of
the31companiesontheCSI300thathavenowomenasseniorexecutives,30
aremajoritystateowned.
Thatfiguredovetailswithextremelylownumbersofwomeninthehighest
echelonsoftheChinesegovernment.
NowomanhaseverservedinthebodythatistheapexofpowerinChina:
thePolitburoStandingCommittee,whichcurrentlyhassevenmembers.
InthewiderPolitburo,onlytwoof25membersarewomen,andfew
womenhaveeverheldanyof62topspotsinprovincialgovernments,the
provinggroundforfuturetopleaders.
TheCommunistPartysofficialwomensorganization,theAllChina
WomensFederation,ischargedwithrepresentingChinesewomenand
protectingtheirrightsandinterests.
Inreality,itfocusesonmaintainingpartycontrolandtraditionalvalues
morethanpromotingwomen.Untilrecently,itpostededitorialsonitswebsite
belittlingwomenwhochosetodelaymarriage.Itisalsooneofthekeyparty
organscarryingoutthecountrysfamilyplanningpolicy,enforcementofwhich
hasledtoforcedabortions.
Thefederationdeclinedrepeatedrequestsforcomment.
Nordothefewwomeninthetopechelonsofbusinessdomuchto
promotetheircohorts,severalbusinesswomensaid.
DongMingzhu,presidentofGreeElectric,anairconditioner
manufacturerwithsalesof$22.5billionlastyear,blameswomenfortheir
poorshowingintheworkplace.

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InChinasModernEconomy,aRetroPushAgainstWomenNYTimes.com

Womendonttryhardenough,shesaidinaninterviewatthecompanys
headquartersinZhuhai,insouthernChina.Theyaretoohappytogooffand
findamantorelyon.
Indeed,powerfulculturalassumptionsthatwomenshouldmarryyoung
andfocusonthefamilyafterachildisbornaccountforsomeofthedisparity.
Womenintheboardroomishardlyevenanissue.
Thisissueisofinterestonlytoaminorityoffemales,saidOliverM.Rui,
aprofessoroffinanceandaccountingatChinaEuropeInternationalBusiness
SchoolinShanghai,andtheyrenottakenseriouslyinChina.
Otherssaytraditionalattitudesarejustpartoftheproblem.
Therealproblemisfarbiggerthananyindividualandhastodowith
thingslikethelawandresourceallocation,saidLuXiaoquan,agenderrights
lawyeratBeijingZhongzeLawFirm.
ChinasConstitutionsaysthatwomenshouldenjoythesamerightsas
men,andlaborlawbansgenderdiscrimination,butthoselawsarevagueand
nearlyunenforceable,Mr.Lusays.
Chineselawdoesntdefinegenderdiscrimination,sohowdoyoueven
argueacase?heasked.Itsvery,verydifficulttogetoneintocourt.
Companiesneednotbotherwithsubtletyinjobadvertisements.Amaker
ofsecuritycamerasseekssalesmanagers:Nowomenneedapply.Acompany
thatsellsboxcuttersislookingforahumanresourcesmanager:male,age25
to35.
Insomecases,thelawitselfbuttressesdiscrimination.Legally,women
mustretireearlierthanmengenerallyage60formenand50or55for
womenastheyareexpectedtocarefortheyoung,thesickandtheold.
OneChinesecompanythatdoeshavewomenonitsboard,Haier,a
manufacturerofhomeappliances,saysthediversitymakesbusinesssense.
Femalesactquitedifferently,bringingdiversityandideological
pluralism,MingGuozhen,adeputygeneralmanager,wroteinafaxedreplyto
questions.Tosomedegree,thiscontributestomorereasonabledecisionsand
reducingrisk.
Haierstwowomendirectorsmayalsobemoreattunedtothecompanys

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InChinasModernEconomy,aRetroPushAgainstWomenNYTimes.com

customers.
Womenarethebiggestconsumersandareinchargeoffinanceinthe
home,sotheycanexpressconsumersopinionsbetter,Ms.Mingsaid.
SomecompaniesnotlistedontheCSI300,includingtheInternetgiants
BaiduandAlibaba,alsohavemorewomenintoppositions.
Thosewomenoftenfindthemselvesonalonelyfrontier.
FuXin,32,anarchitectwhodesignscardealershipsforaGerman
company,sayssherarelymeetswomenatherlevel.
Itsallmen,shesaid.Whenclientscomeuptomeattheairportorthe
dealershiptheyoftenlookpastmefortheboss.
Buttheattitudesofthesuccessfulwomenshehasencounteredarenot
alwaysmuchdifferentfromthoseoftheirmalecounterparts.
OnarecenttriptoGuangzhou,thecapitalofGuangdongProvince,arare
femaleclient,theheadofanewdealership,tookherunderherwing.
Shesaid,Youshoulddothemostimportantthinginyourlifenow,Ms.
Fusaid.Findahusband.
DidiKirstenTatlowreportedfromBeijing,andMichaelForsythefromHong
Kong.ZhengHuangandKikiZhaocontributedresearchfromBeijing.
A version of this article appears in print on February 21, 2015, on page A1 of the New York edition
with the headline: In Chinas Modern Economy, a Retro Push Against Women.

2015 The New York Times Company

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