I cover China, I just so happen to be a woman, and this Thursday is the day set aside to celebrate International Women’s Day. So rather than delve into what is, no surprise, a divisive issue within the United States—thanks to the ever widening political fissure between progressives and conservatives—I thought we could look at some good news for once, for women inside the PRC.
China has not traditionally been kind to the female of our species—from concubines and foot binding to the One Child Policy which effectively amounted to state sponsored violence against women and children for nearly 35 years. But the news out of the Chinese business world is more promising this week than it has been for some time, showing that the Chinese are ahead of the global average for placing women in top executive positions.
According to figures published on Thursday by accounting and consulting firm Grant Thornton to coincide with International Women’s Day, 88% of Chinese mainland firms now have at least one woman on their senior management teams – placing them considerably ahead of the global average of 75 %, and an 11-percentage-point improvement in the past 12 months. Grant Thornton has tracked these same figure annually since 1992—this year polling 4,995 businesses in 35 countries.
These latest findings demonstrate that emerging economies in China and Africa are now more willing to embrace innovation and technology development, which business thought leaders believe is helping pave the way to promoting gender equality.
The result means China now has more companies with at least one female senior exec than many other global regions, beating Eastern Europe (87%), the US (81%), the broader Asia-Pacific (71%) and Latin America (65%).
Only Africa outperforms China, with 89% of those polled on the continent reporting they now employ at least one female in an exec role. Within the Asia Pacific, the Philippines leads the way with nearly half of their executive roles, 47%, filled by women.
Bur despite the overall positive result, many in the international business community believe that much more needs to be done, noting that there needs to be a greater emphasis placed on a wider range of voices.
But even this modicum of good news for women in China has its limitations.
Thomson Reuters, another well known data company put out another survey showing that Hong Kong firms are finding it a lot harder to achieve gender equality than their mainland counterparts, which almost seems an odd fact given how much more international business exposure Hong Kong has enjoyed in the last century.
26 per cent of Hong Kong firms polled thought they would never be able to achieve a balanced female representation, while 43 per cent said the process could take as long as 5-10 years to achieve. 51% of senior Hong Kong executives polled in the same study said deep-rooted cultural issues remain the biggest barrier to achieving a gender balance at the top.
“It’s clear that as a business community we need to do more to encourage greater equality, whether that is through increasing transparency, assigning more mentors or publicly setting targets,” said Sanjeev Chatrath, managing director and region head for Asia, financial and risk, at Thomson Reuters who spoke to the South China Morning Post. “But a real culture change needs to happen.”