In a scenario that sounds like it is right out of the Mad Men-era, Angelia Li, a teller at China Everbright Bank, was told that her promotion was denied because of her gender.
Quoted in a New York Times article, Li explained that she was told “It’s a good thing you girls take your work seriously, but you should be focusing on finding a boyfriend, getting married, having a kid.” Li promptly quit. Unfortunately, her story is not unique in the Chinese economy.
Chinese women have a tough road. Although China has often been held up as a model for women in Asia, the experiences that Chinese women are actually going through in the workforce is nothing to strive for. The country’s shift to a market economy has prompted reports of “wonder women” who have taken it upon themselves to make it in business. Yet, for all of the opportunities that may be out there in the growing economy, there’s a cultural backlash occurring that is preventing women from succeeding.
“The media has been publicizing individual cases of successful women, but overall there isn’t space for women to develop in the economic realm,” said Feng Yuan, a prominent Chinese feminist in the same New York Times article. Women are seeing their representation declining in the upper echelons of the corporate and government work. Private companies as well as state-owned companies often have few or no females on their board of directors and in upper management.
Powerful cultural beliefs in China. Women who work in China are fighting powerful cultural beliefs that a woman’s job is to marry young and then focus on their children. The concept of women working, let alone holding a top position in the boardroom is radical.
Complicating matters is the lack of gender discrimination laws in China. If companies don’t have to adhere to standards for equal hiring and equal opportunities, there’s no need for them to look to the female population for top workers.