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March 9, 2021

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Top Chinese women managers at home and abroad describe their paths to success

What do women in top executive positions in different countries have in common and what makes them different? This is the question I try to answer in my new book “Women in Top Management — Role Models from Around the Globe Share their Paths to Success.”

Through in-depth interviews, the female bosses provide personal insights into their successful career paths. My findings give women managers and specialists inspiration for their own career strategies.

I chose to examine the career paths of role models in leading economic nations at the top, middle and bottom of the world rankings for women’s participation in top management positions.

China has a high participation of women in senior management functions of 38 percent, following Russia, the leading nation at 47 percent.

European countries vary and some are in the middle of the world ranking like France with 31 percent .

Germany is on the lower ranks with 17 percent and Japan has one of the lowest participation at only 7 percent.

Such women have a number of features in common: These top managers define their will to succeed at an early stage — and the will to succeed is very strong.

Regarding environment and prevailing norms: The ideal top woman executive is internally free from evaluation by others. She is not afraid of conflict and has a sporty attitude toward competition.

Other roles, including those of a mother, are subordinate to the preferred primary role of executive. The ideal female top manager starts her path with in-depth training, often at elite universities, and develops management expertise in a targeted manner.

She establishes her own leadership style in the early phase of her career, and by quickly assuming leadership responsibilities as an expression of conscious career planning. She actively searches out support from others, engages in networking and seeks advice from mentors and coaches. These women intentionally choose specific companies and go where they can see opportunities.

Challenges are welcomed and setbacks are used as a learning opportunity. A high level of flexibility and a willingness to embrace change are key qualities in an ideal senior female executive. An ideal senior female manager searches out opportunities for autonomy and power so as to be able to exert a positive influence within the company, and is deeply committed to employees.

High motivation

She aims to be a role model, is highly motivated and stands in solidarity with other women. And what in particular favors the careers of Chinese female role models?

The Chinese women in senior management are characterized by pronounced flexibility in terms of both line of work and location. Their two most outstanding qualities, compared with the other groups surveyed, are their international business expertise and their global mindset, which enable them to move between cultures with relative ease.

With positive curiosity, Chinese women look for “jewels” in both their own culture and foreign cultures, and combine their skills to create an intercultural leadership style.

Chinese women executives’ leadership style is team-oriented with some decisiveness components, depending on the situation. These qualities make the interviewed Chinese female leaders also successful in Europe, according to my interviews in Germany and France. They learn how to adapt in a new cultural environment and combine their expertise from China in Europe to a mixed leadership style which enables them to successfully work and rise abroad.

Chinese women abroad show the characteristics of the “ideal typical top women manager” mentioned before and benefit from their previous experiences in China in a more gender-balanced environment. The interviewed Chinese women abroad are pioneers who are paving the way for other Chinese women in the future.

Dr Bettina-Al-Sadik-Lowinski is a researcher, author and certified international mentor-coach. Following a long management career in multinational companies, she has worked as an international executive coach and expert on diversity in Germany, France, Japan and China. The views are her own.


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