Women in China

In arguing for equal rights for women as far back as the 1950’s Chairman Mao Zedong famously noted that “women hold up half the sky.”

Recently, international accountancy giant, Grant Thornton, released its annual International Business Report, which, among other things, measures the percentage of a country’s largest companies that are run by women. This year Grant Thornton found that 30% of China’s top companies are run by women, the ninth highest rate in the world, above the United States, and almost four times the rate found in Japan.

My own anecdotal experience would support this analysis. Before my retirement, several of my largest customers and suppliers were either run by women or had women in senior management positions. At my own company half of the most senior managers in the company were female.

My best anecdote on this issue, however, has to do with my arrival in China and my subsequent attempt to rent a house. The house I finally settled on was owned by a Chinese couple that together ran their own construction firm. I looked at the house several times and each time I was greeted by the husband, who was quite friendly and spoke very fluent English.

I finally told the realtor that was the house I wanted and asked her to arrange a meeting with the owner to negotiate the contract. She arranged it and we met the owner at the house a few days later. On this occasion, however, I was greeted by the wife, who spoke little English, not the husband, who was nowhere in sight.

I found this a little odd and not necessarily to my advantage so I took the realtor aside and asked her why the change in players. To which she replied, “Now you are talking money. Before you were just looking. The women handle the money in China.”

And I have found that to be true. If we are making a big purchase I always allow my Chinese wife to negotiate. And if I am out shopping on my own I am embarrassed to admit that I will seek out a male salesperson based on my experience that I will get a better price.

What I found even more interesting about the Grant Thornton study, however, was what they discovered about motivation. At a global level, 43% of the women in leadership roles said they were motivated by the desire to promote new business strategies and cultures while 46% of the men indicated they were motivated by the chance to make more money.

In general, women executives also appear to be more focused on the purpose of the business as a whole while male executives are more focused on individual performance.

What will be particularly interesting to see is how gender roles change as China pivots away from the gigantic state-owned enterprises to a service-oriented economy driven by innovation and entrepreneurship. While Silicon Valley is an infamously white male dominated segment of the U.S. economy, my guess is that women will lead the charge here in China. The men may do the actual coding, but it is the women who are trained to lead and to communicate. In an economy that is not centrally controlled these will be the skills that count most.

Critics will note that no woman has ever held a seat in China’s top political institution, the seven-member Politburo of the Communist Party. And that’s true.

And while I would never argue that they shouldn’t, I do have to wonder how truly relevant that is. Politics is all about relationships and networking. And the men of China are very good at that indeed.

Is that what truly drives the development of a country, however? I’m not so sure. I will say this. The women of China, without exception, put the values of family first. In shaping a future culture, I would argue, those are the values that matter most. Those are the values that will hold a society together through good and bad. And those are the values that will insure that, unlike many countries in the West, development is inclusive and fair.


Some early praise for the author’s latest book, “Understanding China – There is reason for the difference”

“An insightful, compelling introduction to the intricacies of Chinese business and life.” – Kirkus Review

To see the full review from this prestigious literary company, please click on this direct link:


“Understanding China is a “must-read” for anyone interested in culture, working with Asian businesses, visiting China or simply if you enjoy a well-written book! I worked in China in the 90’s and while I eventually understood the differences, I never understood “why” until now. Moreau does a great job explaining the “why”. Well done!!”

(Not a relative!)

“Having done business and gone on personal journeys through the Asia Pacific region, I wish I’d read a book like this first. The premise is that being happy and effective in China requires more than just learning how things operate and working within the established system. This will bring frustration and leave you ineffective because you, the Westerner, will still be looking at these cultural differences as irrational. Mr. Moreau contends that only by understanding why things are the way they are in China and in the West can a Westerner actually influence outcome in China.

The author proceeds to explain the differences with very engaging writing that made me say, “Of, of course! It all makes sense now.”

(Also not a relative!)

Copyright © 2016 Gary Moreau

Gary Moreau Beijing, China
Gary Moreau
Beijing, China

Note: The views expressed in this post are strictly those of the writer acting in a personal capacity.




You may contact the author at glassmakerinchina@gmail.com