China has surprised the world in terms of women’s ascendancy as business leaders.

Women held more than half of the senior management roles in Chinese companies, according to a survey released in 2013 by Grant Thornton International. That placed China at the top of the list of countries with the largest female presence in business. It was followed by the Philippines (37 percent), Thailand (36 percent) and Vietnam (33 percent).

There are 40.9 female business owners in China to every 100 male ones, a ratio that ranked third in the Asia-Pacific region, below Australia (50.9 female to every 100 male) and New Zealand (42 female to every 100 male), according to a MasterCard survey.

About 550 publicly traded companies in China, or about 21 percent, have women on their boards, according to Fortune magazine. And China Teletech Holding and Shenzhen-based Ceetop are two of the world’s only four companies with all-female boards.

Half of the world’s self-made female billionaires are now Chinese, according to the Hurun Report.

Chinese women’s ascendancy in business is partly due to a culture where women were expected to work and fuel the country’s growth.

“Women hold up half the sky,” Chairman Mao said. However, his words ring empty in the political field, where women are still badly outnumbered by men.

China’s one-child policy and grandparents’ traditional involvement in childrearing has enabled young mothers to dedicate more time to developing their careers.

In the fields of marketing and advertising, women are leading the development of a consumer market that relies on insights into Chinese spending, aspirations and social media use.

Women are also their main targets: China’s female professionals spend an estimated $3 trillion annually when shopping online.

The American magazine Advertising Age in August released its fourth annual Women to Watch China list. The women on the list have improved infant healthcare training while growing their businesses, experimented with the Internet of Things and gained insights into the values of China’s millennials, among others.

Advertising Age will hold an award ceremony in Shanghai on October 19. We’ve profiled several of the women who will be honored.

Christina Lu, Johnson & Johnson

Christina Lu is the VP-marketing for Johnson & Johnson’s consumer personal care division in China. The American company, which sells brands such as Johnson’s Baby, Neutrogena and Listerine, has been present in China since 1985. Until recently it had a more traditional marketing approach. Lu, a Shanghai native, increased the percentage of digital ad spending from 15 percent in 2013 to 40 percent this year.

Johnson & Johnson has been training Chinese doctors and nurses over the past decade in the resuscitation of newborns. Lu is leading a digital storytelling project to tell stories of some of the rescued babies and to increase awareness of newborn breathing issues.

Subrina Liu, Herborist

Herborist is one of China’s few high-end cosmetics brands that have been successful abroad. Its products, based on traditional Chinese medicine techniques, are competing in some Western European markets with French organic cosmetics brands such as L’Occitane and Biotherm.

Hangzhou-native Subrina Liu is Herborist’s head of marketing. Next year, she will be spearheading the company’s expansion into North America. Most popular Chinese brands fail to replicate their success abroad, analysts say, due to trust issues for “brand China,” poor market research and bad timing. Liu is excited to prove them wrong.

Jalin Wu, Uniqlo

Most online chatter about Uniqlo this year was generated by a viral sex tape shot in its Sanlitun store. But according to Jalin Wu, Uniqlo’s chief marketing officer for Greater China, the Japanese retailer managed to double the number of its WeChat followers through an in-store campaign.

The company set up monitors in its stores. When people tried out outfits in front of them, different backgrounds would appear, making them look like they were touring Tokyo or London. The machine would then send the image to their WeChat accounts, where they could share it. Uniqlo has more than 2 million WeChat fans.

Ellen Hou, McCann Worldgroup Shanghai

Ellen Hou, McCann Worldgroup Shanghai’s group managing director, has used her passion for anthropology to gain insights into what makes Chinese millennials tick. Unlike previous generations, today’s youth want to make the present moment interesting and happy rather than live for the future, the Shanghai native said.

Younger millennial cohorts born after 1990 like to keep it relaxed and lighthearted and to build authentic friendships rather than guanxi. Hou helps build the communication strategy for clients such as Coca-Cola, Rio bottled cocktail and C&A clothing store.

Daphne Chen, Cheil PengTai

Taipei-born Daphne Chen is the digital marketing business director of Cheil PengTai, a digital agency with 1,000 employees in China. She is working on integrating more “Internet of Things” campaigns for her clients, using research from the agency’s innovation lab.

For its client dairy producer Yili, the agency turned straps in Beijing buses into health monitoring systems for people to grip, measuring their heart rate, body mass index and balance. The gadgets instantly linked to smartphones transmitting information and options for a healthier lifestyle.

The Chinese government is eager to promote the Internet of Things by linking traditional businesses with online technology.

Simina Mistreanu

About Simina Mistreanu

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Simina is a journalist who is passionate about social issues and good stories. So far, she's reported on four continents. She loves dogs and plans to get one in Beijing.

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