The Role of Women in Business – Comparing China and India

Recent research has shown that businesses benefit from having women in leadership roles because they bring diversity and complementary management styles to boardrooms, c-suites, and management teams. In Asia, there are also significant talent and labor shortages that cannot be solved without women’s full participation in the labor force and in leadership roles. Asian countries generally lag behind the rest of the world in women’s representation on boards and executive committees with averages of only 6% and 8%, respectively, compared to the European averages of 17% and 10%. Like many statistics, these vary among Asian nations.

China, while not the most gender equal Asian nation, is leaps ahead of India. The United Nations Human Development Program reports a Gender Inequality Index (GII) of only 0.191 for China and 63.9% of women over the age of 15 participate in the labor force. Further, women make up only 8% of company boards and 9% of executive committees. In contrast, the GII for India is 0.563 and only 27% of women participate in the labor force. Only 5% of Indian boards and 3% of executive committees are comprised of women.

Cultural perceptions and attitudes play a significant role in the disparities between men and women and among Asian nations. Traditional gender roles are still very much a factor in women’s career decisions, with the duties of caregiving at home falling almost completely on their shoulders. If they do choose to work and have a family, they are choosing to essentially have two jobs and cannot expect equal family care duties to fall on their partners. Some choose instead to opt out of marriage and family in order to have a career. Gaps in educational attainment also play a significant role in the gender gap, and is especially prevalent in India. Women in India are less likely to be literate and less likely to attend secondary and tertiary schools.

These cultural attitudes are rooted in religious and philosophical traditions, particularly Confucian tradition, but also Islam and Buddhism, that value hierarchy and place male patriarchs over the family. China’s relatively progressive attitudes toward women are rooted in Communism and the idea that every member of society must contribute. The tradition of women joining their husband’s family upon marriage also contributes to some of the gender gap. Families see an investment in a girl’s education as less valuable to the family because they don’t see the same return on investment as a son who stays in the family and financially supports his elders as they age.

There are definitely upward trends as overall development improves in Asia. Economic concerns, including the business case for women leaders and the need to grow the labor force to grow incomes, will likely lead to increasing gender equality and more women in leadership positions. Many Asian companies are already implementing women friendly policies to retain talented female employees.

Shelley Meaux

MBA Candidate 2016