No One Said It Was Going To Be Easy

This gorgeous woman is Jing Ulrich, managing director and chairman of global markets for JP Morgan China. Her husband is American. (Photo courtesy Fortune Live Media)

This gorgeous woman is Jing Ulrich, managing director and chairman of global markets for JP Morgan China. Her husband is American. (Photo courtesy Fortune Live Media)

In terms of women’s business success, China is far ahead of most of us. According to a recent report by Grant Thornton, 51 percent Chinese businesses’ senior management is female, compared to a 24 percent average for the rest of the world.

But like all trailblazers, they often walk a lonely path.

This past Sunday, the New York Times published a fascinating in-depth article by Brook Larmer on the Chinese marriage market. While she focused primarily on a service for wealthy Chinese men looking for “fresh resources,” the piece touches on the frustrations of women looking for love, too. According to the article, women who are in their 30s, hold graduate degrees, or are wealthy have a much harder time finding love. Matchmaker Yang Jing, explaining why she turned down a $100,000 contract from a wealthy female businesswomen, put it plainly:

 “No wealthy Chinese man would ever marry her. They always want somebody younger, with less power.” [emphasis mine]

It’s not just millionaires who have this problem. One of the most touching anecdotes concerns a 36-year-old economics professor whose father hangs out in the park all day, looking desperately for a husband who won’t reject her for having “too high” of a degree, even though her income is modest compared to a corporate executive.

The thing is, I get it. If someone told me on a first date that I could just marry him and never work again, I’d react like 39-year-old Mr. Zhao:

 “If I accepted that situation,” he asked me, “what kind of man would I be?”

What kind of person would any of us be to accept marriage on those terms? The double standard – that it’s okay for men to be powerful, but not women – is not the real problem here. The real issue is the shift from marriages between equals – mendang hudui, which Larmer translates as “family doors of equal size” – to the expectation that men should hold all the power in a relationship. This has very little to do with what men want from women and everything to do with how men are viewed by society.

Fortunately, on this side of the Pacific, things are changing. Many of the best men I know have married the best women I know. They’re not afraid to be with powerful, educated, successful women – they’re proud of it. Cultural change takes time, but as women continue to push for recognition as equals, social pressures on men are letting up. They are not just free to chose wives of equal standing, their social status actually increases if their partner is as accomplished as they are.

So keep on, women of China. If the rapid progress you’ve made in the business world is any indication, it won’t be all that long before you achieve equality in relationships, too. 

The Advantages (for Men) of Women at Work

In both the print and online versions of James Fallows’ recent article for the Atlantic on manufacturing, the following line became a pull quote:

Many factory managers say openly that they prefer women: women, they say, learn new jobs faster, handle high-precision work better and pose fewer disciplinary challenges.

It’s an aside from the overall article, but it’s interesting to consider. But what really got me is the part that immediately follows (emphasis mine):

But as the modernizing Chinese economy creates more options for women, fewer of them are choosing factory work. That leaves men.

Among the consequences is greater fractiousness in the typical Chinese factory force. In September, a Foxconn plant in Shanxi province was temporarily closed because of a late-night riot that eventually involved several thousand workers. According to Louis Woo, the riot was touched off not by worker-management tensions but by the Chinese equivalent of an ethnic-gang war in an American prison, as workers from one province took the side of a colleague who was fighting a worker from somewhere else. This is the sort of thing that happens more frequently with more men in the workforce.

It is always difficult to talk about gender without getting wrapped up in nature versus nurture. How many of our strengths in the workforce come from innate advantages (physical strength or adaptability) versus learned behaviors and training (which can affect both those factors and many more)?

I seem to get in the most trouble – with others and with my own mind – when I engage in the old hormones game. Women have for far too long suffered under the cultural misperception that our judgment is impaired by ovulation and menstruation, and I do not wish to inflict the same limitations on men and their so-called “other brain.”

And yet, whether the cause of increased aggression among males is testosterone (as the Seattle Seahawks’ football coach recently argued in his defense); genetics, as a team of Australian researchers argued earlier this year; or cultures that glorify conflict, patterns like this bear out globally. Continue reading