It’s not just male bias that can get in the way of women’s advancement. When it comes to projecting the management style, communication abilities and executive presence required to succeed at multinational corporations, Chinese women can be their own worst enemies. “There’s a high level of humility, self-deprecation and apologizing,” said a partner at a global consulting firm.
Compounding these burdens are crushing work schedules: Survey respondents in full-time jobs routinely chalk up working weeks of more than 70 hours. Driven by the global span of operations, the situation is getting worse. Nearly a third — 31 percent — report putting in more time than they did three years ago — an average of 18 additional hours per week.
Further, they are spending a sizable portion of their time stuck in traffic. IBM’s 2010 Global Commuter Pain Study ranked Beijing traffic as tied for the world’s worst; Shanghai isn’t far behind. “The traffic is a huge waste of time,” said one financial services executive. She said being able to work remotely would not only help her juggle family and work, it would add to her efficiency by eliminating two hours of commuting time each day. But face time is a cultural norm that has a huge impact, not just in China but across Asia. Virtual work options and flexible work arrangements are rare in China.
Multinational organizations expanding their presence in China, and Chinese companies extending their reach into the global marketplace, have a unique opportunity to help China’s career women keep their ambitions on course. Programs such as GE Women’s Network and Women at Intel Network help women overcome cultural challenges through initiatives aimed at boosting their self-confidence, inter-cultural communication skills and networking ability. Cisco’s Extended Flex program formalizes telecommuting, flexible time and part-time work, giving flexible work arrangements corporate credibility. Genpact’s WeMentor and Standard Chartered’s Women in Leadership programs strengthen the pipeline of high-potential women through specific career development action plans. “It made me understand what is needed to reach a senior management position,” said one Standard Chartered program participant.