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2/26/2015

InChina’sModernEconomy,aRetroPushAgainstWomen­NYTimes.com

InChina’sModernEconomy,aRetroPushAgainstWomen­NYTimes.com http://nyti.ms/19KMXvv ASIA PACIFIC In China’ Modern

In China’ Modern conom, a Retro Puh Againt Women

 DIDI KIRSTN TATLOW and MICHAL FORSYTH

F. 20, 2015

BEIJING—Freshoutofcollege,AngelaLiwasproudofherjobasatellerat thestate­ownedChinaEverbrightBank—maybeitwasn’texciting,butithad prospects.Afterayearandahalfsheappliedforapromotion,alongwitha malecolleaguewhohadjoinedwithher. Hegotit.Shedidnot.

“Ourbosscametotalktomeafterwards,”saidMs.Li,a25­year­oldwith

scraped­backhairandaquietgaze.“Hesaid,‘It’sgoodthatyougirlstakeyour

workseriously.Butyoushouldbefocusingonfindingaboyfriend,getting

married,havingakid.’”

Ms.Liquit.

“Icouldcompeteintermsofability,butnotintermsofgender,”shesaid.

ChinaisoftenheldupasamodelforwomeninAsia.Womenmadegreat

stridesintheearlydecadesofCommunistrule,andthegovernmenthastaken

painstoportraywomenasequaltomen,startingwithChairmanMao’s

declarationthatwomen“holduphalfthesky.”

Chinesewomenhavemadeitinbusiness.

Buttheeconomicboomthathascreatedopportunitiesforwomenhasalso

fosteredaresurgenceoflong­repressedtraditionalvalues.Moreandmore

menandwomensayawoman’splaceisinthehome,wealthymentake

mistressesinacontemporaryrepriseoftheconcubinesystem,andpressure

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InChina’sModernEconomy,aRetroPushAgainstWomen­NYTimes.com

forwomentomarryyoungisintense.Intheoffice,Socialist­eraegalitarianism hasbeenreplacedbyopensexism,insomecasesreinforcedbythelaw. “Themediahasbeenpublicizingindividualcasesofsuccessfulwomen, butoverallthereisn’tspaceforwomentodevelopintheeconomicrealm,” saidFengYuan,aprominentChinesefeminist.“Women’sstatushasnot improved,andinsomeareashasregressed.” Chinesewomenarelosinggroundintheworkforcecomparedwithmen, theirrepresentationfallingsteadilywitheachrunguptheprofessionalladder.

Womenmakeup44.7percentoftheworkforce,butjust25.1percentofpeople

withpositionsof“responsibility,”accordingtoChina’s2010census.

Attheverytop,theirsharefallsstillfurther. AccordingtocorporaterecordsexaminedbyTheNewYorkTimes,fewer

than1in10boardmembersofChina’stop300companiesarewomen.That

measure,significantlysmallerthantheproportionofwomenoncorporate boardsintheUnitedStatesandmuchofEurope,isbasedonareviewofthe

boardsofdirectorsofeverycompanyintheCSI300index,China’sequivalent

totheS.&P.500,whichincludesawideswathoftheeconomyfromminingto

pharmaceuticals.

AmongtheCSI300companies,126havenowomenontheirboards,

accordingtotheir2013annualreports,thelatestavailable.

“Wecallitthe‘stickyfloor,’”Ms.Fengsaid.“Thereisaglassceilinghere too,butmostwomenneverevengetoffthestickyfloor.”

Bycomparison,womenhold19.2percentofthedirectorshipsonS.&P.

500companies,accordingtoCatalyst,anonprofitgroupthatseekstopromote

womeninbusiness.

InEurope,about18percentofboardmembersintheContinent’s610

biggestcompaniesarewomen,accordingtotheEuropeanCommission.

Whiletheadvantagesofhavingwomenintheboardroomarebroadly

acceptedinglobalbusinesscircles,inChinatheideameetswith

incomprehension,evenboredom,amongbusinessleaders.

Womenasdirectorswas“anoblequestion,”saidJiangZhinan,a

spokesmanforthestate­ownedAluminumCorporationofChina,butonethat

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InChina’sModernEconomy,aRetroPushAgainstWomen­NYTimes.com

hiscompanyhadnotconsidered.Thecompanyhasnowomenonitseight­ memberboard. DongfangElectric,oneoftheworld’sbiggestmakersofelectricpower turbines,alsohasnowomenonitsnine­memberboard. “We’veneverthoughtaboutit,”saidZhangLinchao,thedirectorofthe company’sgeneraloffices.Askedifthecompanywouldanswerquestionson thesubject,hedeclined.“It’sirrelevant,”hesaid. Thepatternisespeciallypronouncedatstate­ownedcompanies,where thegovernmentcouldsimplyorderhigherfemaleparticipationifitwanted.Of

the31companiesontheCSI300thathavenowomenasseniorexecutives,30

aremajoritystate­owned.

Thatfiguredovetailswithextremelylownumbersofwomeninthehighest

echelonsoftheChinesegovernment.

NowomanhaseverservedinthebodythatistheapexofpowerinChina:

thePolitburoStandingCommittee,whichcurrentlyhassevenmembers.

InthewiderPolitburo,onlytwoof25membersarewomen,andfew

womenhaveeverheldanyof62topspotsinprovincialgovernments,the

provinggroundforfuturetopleaders. TheCommunistParty’sofficialwomen’sorganization,theAll­China Women’sFederation,ischargedwithrepresentingChinesewomenand protectingtheirrightsandinterests. Inreality,itfocusesonmaintainingpartycontrolandtraditionalvalues morethanpromotingwomen.Untilrecently,itpostededitorialsonitswebsite belittlingwomenwhochosetodelaymarriage.Itisalsooneofthekeyparty organscarryingoutthecountry’sfamilyplanningpolicy,enforcementofwhich hasledtoforcedabortions. Thefederationdeclinedrepeatedrequestsforcomment. Nordothefewwomeninthetopechelonsofbusinessdomuchto promotetheircohorts,severalbusinesswomensaid. DongMingzhu,presidentofGreeElectric,anairconditioner

manufacturerwithsalesof$22.5billionlastyear,blameswomenfortheir

poorshowingintheworkplace.

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InChina’sModernEconomy,aRetroPushAgainstWomen­NYTimes.com

“Womendon’ttryhardenough,”shesaidinaninterviewatthecompany’s headquartersinZhuhai,insouthernChina.“Theyaretoohappytogooffand findamantorelyon.” Indeed,powerfulculturalassumptionsthatwomenshouldmarryyoung andfocusonthefamilyafterachildisbornaccountforsomeofthedisparity. Womenintheboardroomishardlyevenanissue. “Thisissueisofinterestonlytoaminorityoffemales,”saidOliverM.Rui, aprofessoroffinanceandaccountingatChinaEuropeInternationalBusiness SchoolinShanghai,“andthey’renottakenseriouslyinChina.” Otherssaytraditionalattitudesarejustpartoftheproblem. “Therealproblemisfarbiggerthananyindividualandhastodowith thingslikethelawandresourceallocation,”saidLuXiaoquan,agenderrights lawyeratBeijingZhongzeLawFirm. China’sConstitutionsaysthatwomenshouldenjoythesamerightsas men,andlaborlawbansgenderdiscrimination,butthoselawsarevagueand nearlyunenforceable,Mr.Lusays. “Chineselawdoesn’tdefinegenderdiscrimination,sohowdoyoueven argueacase?”heasked.“It’svery,verydifficulttogetoneintocourt.” Companiesneednotbotherwithsubtletyinjobadvertisements.Amaker ofsecuritycamerasseekssalesmanagers:Nowomenneedapply.Acompany

thatsellsboxcuttersislookingforahumanresourcesmanager:male,age25

to35.

Insomecases,thelawitselfbuttressesdiscrimination.Legally,women

mustretireearlierthanmen—generallyage60formenand50or55for

women—astheyareexpectedtocarefortheyoung,thesickandtheold.

OneChinesecompanythatdoeshavewomenonitsboard,Haier,a

manufacturerofhomeappliances,saysthediversitymakesbusinesssense.

“Femalesactquitedifferently,bringingdiversityandideological

pluralism,”MingGuozhen,adeputygeneralmanager,wroteinafaxedreplyto

questions.“Tosomedegree,thiscontributestomorereasonabledecisionsand

reducingrisk.”

Haier’stwowomendirectorsmayalsobemoreattunedtothecompany’s

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InChina’sModernEconomy,aRetroPushAgainstWomen­NYTimes.com

customers. “Womenarethebiggestconsumersandareinchargeoffinanceinthe home,sotheycanexpressconsumers’opinionsbetter,”Ms.Mingsaid.

SomecompaniesnotlistedontheCSI300,includingtheInternetgiants

BaiduandAlibaba,alsohavemorewomenintoppositions. Thosewomenoftenfindthemselvesonalonelyfrontier.

FuXin,32,anarchitectwhodesignscardealershipsforaGerman

company,sayssherarelymeetswomenatherlevel.

“It’sallmen,”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 China’s Modern Economy, a Retro Push Against Women.