Chi­nese women rise to top in West

A grow­ing num­ber of fe­male man­agers are de­fy­ing tra­di­tional stereo­types and mov­ing abroad to move up cor­po­rate lad­ders or start com­pa­nies For women like me who started work­ing in the ’70s as a jour­nal­ist at Agence France-Presse, you had no women in re­spon

China Daily (USA) - - PEOPLE - By SA­MAN­THA VADAS For China Daily

Zhang Lei is no stranger to lead­er­ship. At 29, the Chi­nese busi­ness­woman was ap­pointed gen­eral man­ager of In­fosto Group’s Beijing of­fice, a Fin­nish on­line plat­form for clas­si­fied in­for­ma­tion ex­changes.

To­day, she leads a team of more than a dozen peo­ple as gen­eral man­ager of China Mo­bile In­ter­na­tional UK Ltd in Lon­don.

“I could have cho­sen to stay in China and have a sta­ble life, but I wanted change and more re­spon­si­bil­ity,” says Zhang.

She’s one of a grow­ing num­ber of Chi­nese women break­ing through the so­called glass ceil­ing—the in­vis­i­ble bar­rier be­tween men and women in the work­place that pre­vents many from reach­ing top jobs.

Zhao Shuo, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of Fushi Group, was lured to Europe from her job in Shang­hai.

“The driv­ing force for me to go over­seas was a col­league who had come from Aus­tralia to join our team and she made more money than us,” Zhao says. “In 2001, Green­wich Uni­ver­sity gave me an offer to study for an MBA, and the mo­ti­va­tion was to make money and go back to China.”

Fast for­ward 11 years and Zhao now runs her own com­pany in Lon­don, help­ing Chi­nese fam­i­lies to buy prop­er­ties in the UK.

“Now, we have clients in Hong Kong, Sin­ga­pore and the Mid­dle East com­ing to in­vest in the UK,” she says.

De­spite women like Zhang and Zhao climb­ing the lad­der, men still dom­i­nate cor­po­rate boards and CEO roles, ac­cord­ing to the World Bank Group.

Statis­tics from Grant Thorn­ton show only 24 per­cent of se­nior roles are held by women glob­ally, while a third Monique Villa, of busi­nesses have no fe­males in man­age­ment po­si­tions.

“In the telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions in­dus­try, there are many males and few fe­males,” says Zhang. “I think it’s still a man’s world.”

She ar­rived in Lon­don in 2007 and was one of five peo­ple to set up China Uni­com’s Euro­pean of­fice.

She was ap­pointed head of China Mo­bile'’s UK of­fice in 2013 and is now re­spon­si­ble for the com­pany’s UK op­er­a­tions, as well as the growth of busi­nesses in Europe, the Mid­dle East and Africa.

“A lot of women don’t want this be­cause their fam­i­lies won’t sup­port them, or en­cour­age them to leave,” Zhang says, high­light­ing a cul­tural hur­dle ex­pe­ri­enced by a num­ber of Chi­nese women.

Her hus­band, who works in satel­lite telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions in China, did not fol­low her to Lon­don, de­spite hav­ing been sup­port­ive of her ca­reer.

“It’s my choice and my hus­band’s choice,” she says. "We’re both happy in our jobs.”

Hav­ing now spent nine years in Lon­don, Zhang says her job over­seas has changed her views on work in many ways.

She cites “my work­ing style, the way we re­spect each other and the fact that there is no difference be­tween the man­ager and ju­nior staff, whereas in China they care more about hi­er­ar­chy.”

Ac­cord­ing to Zhao, who also says she has many West­ern val­ues, man­ager roles in China aren’t per­ceived in the same way as they are in the UK.

“In ac­tiv­i­ties that you at­tend out­side of work in China, you need to have guanxi (per­sonal re­la­tion­ships) to so­cial­ize with peo­ple and you need to drink (wine, beer or white spir­its) — I don’t think women can han­dle it.”

Un­like Zhang, Zhao’s fam­ily re­lo­cated to Lon­don from China.

The busi­ness­woman, who has an 11-year-old daugh­ter, says she likes the chal­lenge of hav­ing to balance work and fam­ily life.

“Some­times, you have to go to meet­ings and events af­ter work and you will miss some­thing, like home­work, but it’s not that sig­nif­i­cant,” says Zhao.

Monique Villa, CEO of the Thom­son Reuters Foun­da­tion, the char­i­ta­ble arm of the global news and in­for­ma­tion provider, says hav­ing a job and car­ing for fam­ily is very “doable”, and men to­day are help­ing more than ever.

The French na­tional, who has trans­formed the foun­da­tion through pro­grams and train­ing aimed at em­pow­er­ing peo­ple, par­tic­u­larly women, says the gen­der gap at work has nar­rowed con­sid­er­ably.

“For women like me who started work­ing in the ’70s as a jour­nal­ist at Agence FrancePresse, you had no women in re­spon­si­ble jobs,” she says.

“One of the top lead­ers of one com­pany came into my of­fice and asked my deputy, who was a man, ‘Is it dif­fi­cult to work un­der a woman?’” she re­calls. “It’s a ques­tion you would never be able to ask to­day, but in the ’90s it was a ques­tion you could ask with­out peo­ple be­ing hor­ri­fied.”

Reuters CEO of the Thom­son

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