Women occupy less than one-tenth of all corporate board directorships in China. According to Egon Zehnder’s global board diversity analysis, that puts China behind most other major economies. We also find that less than 5 per cent of companies in China have female CEOs, slightly above the global average, but still a mountain to climb for women who aspire to lead.
China’s population is maturing. To sustain economic growth, companies will have to value and nurture young women and men alike. In my own leadership advisory work, I am already seeing this trend manifest itself in family-owned businesses, where male founders are handing over the reins to their daughters.
Still, there is much to do, both in changing corporate practices, and in enabling young women to thrive. “Be bold for change” was the slogan of this year’s International Women’s Day. In that spirit, we at Egon Zehnder marked the day by hosting “Leaders & Daughters” events at our offices worldwide, to which we invited established leaders and their student and early-career daughters.
A survey we conducted of participating daughters shone a spotlight on their own boldness. In China, nearly 90 per cent of women in the early stages of their professional careers said they aspired to reach executive leadership roles. Most also said they had no intention of taking second place to their life partners’ careers.
How can we make sure these future leaders live up to their potential? For one, we need to make sure that companies understand that gender diversity at leadership level is not just fair, but also better for decision making and business success. Just as importantly, young women professionals need to invest in building their own resilience. The clear message from our Leaders & Daughters events was: “Say yes to yourself”, which involves healthy self-belief along with a commitment to lifelong learning.
The next generation of woman leaders has plenty of strength inside. It’s time for us to unleash it.
This article appeared in the Classified Post print edition as Levelling the field.