Gender Comparison of Employment and Career Development in China

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  • ABSTRACT

    Leveraging data from Sina’s online survey of employment and career development carried in 2009, this article uses statistical description in case studies of the status quo of gender equality in employment and the diverse experiences and hopes of employees in China. This research shows some progress of gender equality in employment has been achieved, but there remain distinct differences between men and women in their professions, ranks, income levels, and promotions. Secondly, it shows that men and women have different experiences and hopes for the work environment due to their different ages, levels of education, and incomes. The marginalization of women in the workplace has a positive correlation with their hopes. The traditional stereotyped impressions still function as frames and templates in defining gender roles in the workplace. These factors have had an influence on gender equality in the workplace.


  • KEYWORD

    Working conditions , career development , gender differences , China

  • Introduction

    In recent years, there have been some positive changes in Chinese women’s career development while some problems are also emerging at the same time. Since the end of last century, the employment rate of Chinese women has been quite stable. According to The Yearbook of Statistics of Chinese Labors 2007, the employment rate of women in cities and towns has been approximately 38% during the period from 1995 to 2002. In a report by Xinhua News Net in March 2007, the Women and Children Working Committee of the State Council indicated that the employment rate of Chinese women accounted for 45% of total employment in 2007. In October 2008 Huang Qingyi (Vice Chairperson of All China’s Women’s Federation in the 10th Congress of Chinese Women) revealed that women’s employment rate had reached 45.4% of total employment. The census showed that by the end of 2006 there were 17,388,000 total students in China’s universities or colleges, of which 8,363,600 (48.1%) were female (Ministry of Education, 2007, 2009). The increase of female students in universities or colleges suggests a future increase in the employment rate of women. This shows that Chinese women still occupy the half sky in the job market in the face of a new socialist market economy as the Government has enhanced its strength of policy orientation in eliminating discrimination in education and employment so as to implement gender equality.

    Yet we have also noticed that there are some problems in women’s career development which should not be neglected even when the rate of female employment is continuously increasing. For instance, women are disproportionately employed in certain occupations. By examining the breakdown of total female employment in 2008 from The Yearbook of China’s Labor Statistics 2009, we see that outside of the banking business (which has grown due to the rapid capital development in the market economy), the majority of female employment goes to traditionally female jobs such as in health departments, education, hotels, wholesale trade and retail trade. Employed women mainly undertake the duties of nurturing, nursing, assisting and caring, which are a social extension of their family roles.

    Female employees have also received less education than males. According to statistics, the number of male employees who have received higher education is much higher than that of female employees, and the number of female employees who are illiterate or have only been to elementary school is higher than for male employees.

    Among those employed in industry, women generally remain in low ranks and they tend to drop out the labor market sooner than males. This can be seen in the distribution of female and male employers and employees in private and individual enterprises in 2008 (The Newsroom of China Statistical Press, 2010, p. 32). Male employees in these enterprises account for 32% of the total male employee population, while female employees account for 26%, a 6 percentage point gap. When we look at employers, 2.8% of the overall male workforce is comprised of employers, but just 1.2% of the female workforce. Furthermore, taking into account the variable of age, we see that the proportion of male and female employers and employees would decrease, with women decreasing faster than men. This shows that women quit the labor market much earlier than men, before they are able to assume senior level roles.

    For the past few years, the researchers have investigated the development of women’s careers from multiple views, such as social economic status (Women’ Research Institute of All-China Women’ Federation, 2006, pp. 128-190), gender differences in employment (Jiang, 2003b, pp. 115-129), in income disparity (Jiang, 2003a, pp. 60-72) motivations, decisions and restrictions of women’s career development. In past research, most studies have focused on a broad perspective of the theory and practice (Huang, 2008, pp. 27-51), with an emphasis on the effect that social institution environment (Zhang, 2002, pp. 85-90) and organization environment (He, 2007, pp. 85-90) have on women’s career development. Comparative studies of the workplace environment and career development based on gender are lacking.

    There are obvious new puzzles in Chinese women’s career development in face of the market economy with the advent of China’s opening-up policy. In order to discuss in-depth the mutual relations between workplace environment and female career development, the Women’s Studies Center of Peking University and Sina Net jointly launched an online survey on Gender Existence and Environment of Development in Workplaces in 2009. The workplace environment is defined as “working circumstances and conditions for practitioners,” and mainly divides into 4 aspects: employment, promotion, income and interpersonal relationship. According to the thought of “environmental change and human activity or self change being consistent” (Marx, 2009, p. 500), the goal of the survey was to understand the current situations of gender equality in the workforce and each gender’s work experiences and hopes, and to explore possible environmental factors which may have impact on the fair competition and development of employment between men and women. From July 28 to September 15, 2009, the questionnaire was placed on the Women’s Channel of Sina Net and more than 1,800 people on the internet responded to the questionnaire with 1,760 valid questionnaires received. Through the basic demographic information provided, we could see that the credibility of this survey data is quite high since the status quo of ages, professions, duties, incomes, educational levels and marital status are in accordance with the general situations of the Chinese people on the internet except the proportion of sex (as the questionnaire is placed on Women’s Channel and more women took the questionnaire). Data analysis has shown that there are sharp gender differences in employment.

    The paper, on the basis of data and relevant research information from Sina’s online survey, presents a comparative analysis of the work environment and career development between men and women in China.

    Data and Discussion

      >  Current Status of Gender Existence and Development

    According to the statistics from the online investigation, there remain distinct gender differences in occupation, title, income level, chance of promotion, and other factors affecting employment.

    A. Professions and Duties (ranks): sharp gender differences

    Those people who took the questionnaire come from varying vocations, including public servants, professionals (doctors, engineers, teachers, etc.), clerks, service industry workers, managers, owners of private enterprises, self-employed business owners, industrial workers, agricultural workers, freelance workers, students, soldiers and others. The top five vocations represented are professionals (30.50%), clerks (21.10%), managers (15.78%), service industry (9.52%) and public servants (8.22%).

    The gender breakdown of the vocational statistics shows an obvious gender difference in job distribution. The most commonly reported occupations for men are professionals (doctors, engineers, teachers, etc.), managers, public servants, and clerks. For women, the most commonly reported occupations are professionals (doctors, engineers, teachers, etc.), clerks, managers and business service. The employment of men as professionals is nine percentage points higher, and the rate of managers is 8 percentage points higher than that of women. On the contrary, the employment of women as clerks and in the service industry is twice or even higher that of men. Men are largely engaged in professions requiring higher knowledge and technique while women’s jobs require less knowledge and technique. It is obvious that men are mostly employed as professionals and managers, and women undertake most service work.

    Observing the respondents’ duties and title, there are 1,072 ordinary staff which account for 60.53% of the total number, 206 project supervisors (11.75% of the total), 395 branch directors (22.73% of the total), 87 responsible officers or enterprise managers (4.99% of the total).

    Here we also see distinct differences in the gender breakdown of these numbers. 67.95% of women reported working as ordinary staff, 8 percentage points higher than the overall statistic, while only 46.54% of men reported working as ordinary staff, 14 percentage points lower than the overall statistic. The percentage of men as project supervisors and branch directors are also 6 and 10 percentage points higher than that of women, respectively. The percentage of men as enterprise managers is 4 percentage points higher than that of women.

    B. Income Levels: sharp gender differences

    Most of the respondents are in the middle income band. 495 respondents who earn 800 to 2,000 Yuan (RMB) per month account for 28.17%, 631 who earn 2,001 to 4,000 RMB per month account for 35.83%, 260 who earn 4,001 to 6,000 RMB account for 14.76%. The number of these three groups accounts for 78.76% of the total respondent population.

    Here are the distinct differences in gender statistics: the first four positions of male’s income levels are from 2,001 to 4,000, from 4,001 to 6,000, more than 8,000, from 800 to 2,000. They respectively account for 32.7%, 18.9%, 18.6% and 17.4%. The first four positions of female’s income levels are from 2,001 to 4,000, from 800 to 2,000, 4,001 to 6,000 and below 800 per month. They respectively account for 36.8%, 31.5%, 13.5% and 8.6%.There are very small revenue differences between men and women in the level of 2,001 to 4,000 as the percentages are 32.7% and 36.8% respectively. Examining the gender breakdown of the income statistics, shown in Table 3, we see that men have much higher representation among those with higher incomes. 47.3% of men reported earning more than 4,000 Yuan per month, while only 28.7% of women reported achieving this level, an 18.6 percentage point gap. The proportion of women with lower incomes (from 800 to 2,001) is 14.1 percentage points higher than that of men. Women largely fall into the first two categories which belong to low and middle income levels.

    C. Chances of Promotion: sharp gender differences

    58.2% of respondents reported that they would not have a different chance of promotion according to the gender differences when their leaders assign work to them. At the same time there remain 37.7% of respondents think that their leaders would give more opportunities to men while only 4.1% of the respondents think that women would be given more opportunities. We have found out that through the gender breakdown, men are more likely to think that the leaders would not consider the gender factor in assigning work to their subordinates. This accounts for 65.7% of the total male respondents. The gender breakdown reveals that women think that leaders would give more chances to men while men think that women would have more chances of promotion.

    D. Interpersonal Relationship: achieving a positive working environment with the opposite sex

    We can examine this from two aspects. Firstly, 64.1% respondents think they are well received and respected by the opposite sex in cooperating with the opposite sex in their work, while 30.9% are not aware of anything special, and 5.1% think they pay little attention to their colleagues of the opposite sex (See table 9 below). There are no obvious differences between men’s and women’s feelings.

    Secondly, regarding the gender proportion of desirable jobs, 39.1% of the respondents hope to have a balanced proportion of opposite sex, 25.4% do not care about the proportion, 26.5% hope to have more male colleagues and 9.0% hope to have more female colleagues. Generally speaking, most respondents (64.5%) would prefer to have more male colleagues than females (See table 10).

    By overlapping the analysis of gender preference we find that there is little discrepancy in men’s choice of more male colleagues and more female colleagues, with 16.5% preferring more male colleagues and 14.2% preferring more female colleagues. On the other hand, 28.6% of women would prefer to have more male colleagues, an even higher preference than men indicated (16.5%). On the contrary, the number of female respondents who hope to have more female colleagues is only 6.0% while there are 14.2% of males who hope to have more female colleagues.

    The data in table 6 shows that gender equality in workplace has achieved great progress in the country, and women, relying on their own ability and aptitude who have entered the workplace, achieved higher titles and have been promoted to levels similar to those of the opposite sex, are achieving their social and personal values. Nevertheless, the actual situation remains far from our goal of having women share the same resources, opportunities, rights, and dignity as men and to share the same responsibilities and duties in the workplace.

    In modern society, the status of individuals or groups in societies and families is fundamentally decided by their places and sequence in the social and economic relations, as well as by the roles in social production and position in the wealth allocation system. To possess individual economic rights is fundamental to receiving economic benefits from work. However, entering the workplace is far from enough, as obtaining the ranks and levels of employment, the amount of income, the chances of promotion, social status and political status will directly influence an individual’s status in social and economic relations and thus extend to his or her status in family, society and politics. If we can merely say that Chinese women have achieved basic survival conditions in employment, there are still some difficulties in career development and women are still hitting up against a thick glass ceiling. Therefore, during the transitional period to a market economy, more and more people are paying attention to improving the social environment and small business environment which have exert conspicuous and un-conspicuous extrusion upon career women.

      >  Factors Influencing Equal Gender Competition and Development in Workplace

    The knowledge, sensibility, and hopes of men and women, groups of different ages, educational background and income levels differ in degree in their impact on gender development in the workplace. These factors impact the equal development for both sexes in the workplace.

    A. Significant Roles of Frames and Templates of Traditional Stereotyped Impressions in Career Orientation

    a. Gender preference toward leaders: 56.4% of the respondents hope that their department leaders are male while there are only 6.4% hoping to have female leaders and about 37.3% don’t care who would be their leaders. If we divide the 37.3% who don’t care about genders into two equal parts, one half for men, the other half for women, the total percentage expecting men to be leaders would be 75% and only 25% hoping to have female leaders. Three quarters of the respondents expect to have male leaders.

    b. Gender preference toward deputies or assistants: 43.8% of respondents hope to have a male deputy while 20.3% hope to have a female deputy. If the 36% of respondents who don’t care about male or female leaders can be divided into two parts, one for male, another for female, there will be 61.8% expecting to have male deputy while there are only 38.2% hoping to have female deputy. Therefore, the proportion of male-deputy expectation is 1.6 times of that of females regardless of whether the leader is male or female.

    Looking at the gender breakdown, there is little difference in the proportion of male respondents who don’t care about the opposite sex as their deputies and female respondents who don’t care about gender. As for gender preference, females generally hope their deputies would be male and vice versa. The difference of the proportion of this preference can exceed 10%.

    c. Gender preference toward subordinates: When asked about their gender preference for their subordinates, 47.6% of the respondents hope to have a balanced proportion of men and women, 24.1% don’t care about genders, 24.9% hope to have more male subordinates, and 3.4% hope to have more female subordinates. If we divide 24.1% (who don’t care about genders) into two equal parts, one for men and another for women, there would be 36.95% of the respondents who expect to have male subordinates and only 15.45% expect to have female subordinates. Thus it is evident that regardless of whether the person is a man or a woman, he or she is more than twice as likely to prefer having more male subordinates to having more female subordinates.

    Most people look forward to working with the opposite sex in a relaxing, peaceful, and hopeful atmosphere so as to take the complementary advantages of both sexes. However, the traditional gender structure has been transformed into a stable social environment and public opinions. The traditional gender concepts have been internalized as universal standards in gender orientation. The established concepts of Male General with Female Soldiers and Strong Males with Weak Females are still dominating gender choices in workplace and have thus hindered women’s career development.

    B. Distinct Differences between Genders as Regard to Sensibility and Knowledge of Gender Survivals and Development in Workplace

    a. Views on opportunities of employment: 74.9% of the respondents believe that there is unequal employment opportunity between the genders. The gender breakdown of this statistic shows that 77.6% of female respondents and 66.4% of male respondents believe that unfair opportunities do exist, an 11 percentage point gap. The proportion of male respondents who believe that there are equal opportunities is 33.65% while that of female respondents is 22.43, showing the same 11 percentage point gap. This illustrates that women’s sense of unequal treatment is much stronger than their male counterparts.

    b. Opinions on equal pay for equal work: 10.9% of respondents who accept that equal work should not mean equal pay for men and women while 40.9% consider it acceptable, although it is unfair. There are 37.5% who consider it unfair and unacceptable, and an additional 10.7% who have never thought about it (See Table 11). By performing an overlapping analysis we can see that different genders report different preferences. 20.5% of the male respondents who take it for granted that males should get higher pay than females, while there are only 7.9% female who consider it reasonable. The proportion, accounting for 42.9% and 20% respectively, of women considering it unfair and unacceptable is twice that of men. Women’s demand for gender equality is much stronger than that of men.

    c. Opinions on the makings of a successful man: when the respondents had to choose what kind of predisposition vital for successful career for men, the majority of men usually choose ‘the skill of interpersonal communication’ while most women choose ‘resolute’ and ‘more efficient.’ The percentage choosing the communication skills, being active and positive, and affinity by men is higher than that of women while more women choose resolute, more efficient and foresight (See Table 12). This shows that men’s choices have in certain degrees resulted from their male friends and their own experiences. This also reflects their understanding of the absence of or need for further improvement in their personality while women’s choices reflect their desire for changes in men’s personality.

    d. Views on what have hindered women’s career development: When asked what has hindered women in the workforce, the burden of marital family lives has been identified as the biggest barrier for women’s career development by both men and women (73.4%). The gender breakdown shows that the proportion choosing marital burdens by men is 7.4 percentage points higher than that of women (79.0% males, 71.6% females). The proportion choosing limited interpersonal relation by women is 8 percentage points higher than that of men (25.6% females and 17.7% males). The proportion selecting less chances of promotion for women is 5 percentage points higher than that of men (22.7% females and 17.9% males) (See Table 13). This shows that women have been deeply influenced by the lack of sufficient social resources which would prevent them from advanced career development.

    It is worth mentioning that the existing differences in comprehension between men and women in the workplace is quite normal and common due to their different life styles, growing experiences and development environment. Still, it should not be ignored that different evaluation of and requirements by men and women toward the status of current gender equality will directly or indirectly influence men’s enthusiasm and participation in advancing gender equality and reaching consensus and the force for people to change the current gender structure.

    C. Positive Correlation between the Status and Hopes in Workplace

    More women than men hope to have male leaders: The data has shown that, among these respondents, most of the men are professionals and managers while most of the women are clerks and service industry staffs. The males’ titles were also generally higher than females. In choosing the gender of their leaders, about 58.3% of women have expressed a preference to have men as their leaders while 50.6% of men have expressed a preference to be led by other men. More women expect their leaders to be males.

    The gender statistics show that the proportion of being indifferent to leaders’ sex is well aligned between men and women. The proportion of choosing men as leaders by women is 8% higher than that of men (58.3% by women and 50.6% by men) while the proportion of choosing women as leaders by males is twice as much as female’s choices (10.3% by males and 5.1% by females). Therefore, men and women alike, in fact, even more women, both hope to have male leaders while even fewer women hope to have female leaders than men do (See Table 7).

    More women than men hope to have males promoted: Among the respondents, men’s ranking (official positions) is obviously higher than that of the women. There are 31.4% of the respondents hoping to have males promoted if there is only one opening for promotion in the department while 61.2% don’t care about genders. There are only 7.4% of respondents who reported hoping for more women to be promoted. From the angle of genders, the proportion expressing a preference for males to be promoted by women is higher than that by men (33.5% by women and 24.8% by men). Among the 7.4% of hoping to have women promoted, there are 9.1% of men who have expressed a preference for women to be promoted while there are only 6.9% of women preferring women to be promoted.

    This shows that men have occupied dominating positions in workplace in both real and subjective sphere levels. Apart from the natural law of the opposite sex attracting each other, I think that women’s weak status in actual life has reduced their expectation toward their own career advantages and development, and the overall self-confidence of the female group has been weakened. And this will in the end lead to women’s recognition of the traditional gender-oriented professions such as a Male general with female soldiers. This orientation in turn will further weaken their initiative and competitive power and they will be marginalized gradually in the workplace. This self-marginalization by women in the workplace will inevitably affect the realization of women’s career development and social values.

    D. Diversified Understandings of the Gender Equality in Workplace Depending on Age Groups, Educational Levels and Incomes

    a. In educational levels: The data shows that as higher levels of education are achieved, the rate of hoping to have more male colleagues or preferring a balanced proportion of genders in his or her department increased, while the proportion ignoring gender or preferring more female colleagues decreased.

    b. As regard to ages: Younger respondents expressed a greater desire for the balanced proportion of genders or having more female colleagues in the department. Older respondents expressed a greater proportion of being ignorant to scale of gender or preferring more male colleagues. As one gets older, the proportion of hoping to have female leaders decreases and the proportion of being ignorant to leaders’ genders increases. The older, the more desire to have male deputies or be ignorant gender while the younger, the more likely people were to prefer having a female deputy.

    c. Regarding incomes: the two groups with incomes of more than 8,000 RMB or less than 800 RMB per month care less about the speed of promotions in the workplace. People with incomes from 2,001 to 4,000 per month care most about promotions

    Therefore, consciousness of gender equality will not increase along with the growth of knowledge, ages and incomes. Sometimes it might even decrease. Since people’s attitude to, and recognition of, gender development in the workplace are subject to a greater social environment as a result of increasing personal interactions between people of different backgrounds, mentality (psychological factors), and inter-personal relations. It is also a result of a life-long socialization and re-socialization. We can say that the work environment has restricted and affected individual development and concepts of gender. On the contrary, gender selection in professions will also affect gender equality and the harmonious development of an occupational environment. Thus the occupational environment, being a part of the social environment, is restricted by the greater social environment and also has a counteracting effect on the overall social environment, which will also have a visible and negative impact on women’s career development.

    Conclusions and Suggestions

    Some progress on gender equality in employment has been achieved, but there are still distinct differences between men and women in their professions, ranks, income levels, and promotions, demonstrating that there remain difficulties in career development for women. Therefore, more and more people are paying attention to the broader social environment and the small business employment environment which have exert conspicuous and un-conspicuous extrusion upon career women.

    There are distinct experiences and hopes in the work environment between men and women due to their different ages, levels of education, and incomes. The marginalization of women in the workplace has a positive correlation with their hopes. The traditional stereotyped impressions are still functioning as frames and templates in defining gender roles in the workplace. These factors have exerted influence on gender equality in the workplace.

    In conclusion, it is necessary to evaluate the national and local public policies such as the current employment laws and regulations, planning and policies of educational development, strategies of talent development so as to discover and prevent gender hierarchy, shunting, and differentiation which would cause unequal influences of men and women. New policies and regulations for the equal development of, and equal benefits for, genders of different social status should be worked out. It is necessary to analyze the current cultural and knowledge systems, concepts and public opinions, family, school and social environment from a gender perspective, and thus to change and remove contents of social injustice and gender discrimination for the purpose of cultivating a new generation with knowledge and consciousness of gender equality. It is necessary to educate and train those educators and administrators with a proper knowledge and consciousness of gender so that they can promote true gender equality in a legal and social context. Supportive and effective social policies should be developed in order to alleviate women’s household duties caused by bearing and fostering children to allow them to work together with men without worries and troubles back at home.

    Finally, I’d like to caution that this online questionnaire survey, like any other survey, inevitably has limitations. A lot of information and data from this survey have only provided us with some side views of issues and progress of gender equality and harmonious development and what should be explored further and what can be done in improving these circumstances. However, it will help us better understand how arduous and difficult it will be to encourage gender equality.

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  • [Table 1] Professions
    Professions
  • [Table 2] Duties (ranks)
    Duties (ranks)
  • [Table 3] Levels of Income
    Levels of Income
  • [Table 4] Whether gender differences will be taken into account when leaders distribute works to the subordinates
    Whether gender differences will be taken into account when leaders distribute works to the subordinates
  • [Table 5] Feelings of Cooperating with Colleagues of Opposite Sex in Your Work
    Feelings of Cooperating with Colleagues of Opposite Sex in Your Work
  • [Table 6] Which department are you hoping to work in?
    Which department are you hoping to work in?
  • [Table 7] You hope to have a female or male leader in your department
    You hope to have a female or male leader in your department
  • [Table 8] As department or team leader, you hope to have a male or a female assistant
    As department or team leader, you hope to have a male or a female assistant
  • [Table 9] As department or team leader, you hope to have
    As department or team leader, you hope to have
  • [Table 10] Is there equal employment for men and women in China?
    Is there equal employment for men and women in China?
  • [Table 11] If men and women have done the same job, but the men get higher pay, what would you think?
    If men and women have done the same job, but the men get higher pay, what would you think?
  • [Table 12] Gender differences on what kind of quality that a career man needs most to be successful(each respondents should select 2 choices)
    Gender differences on what kind of quality that a career man needs most to be successful(each respondents should select 2 choices)
  • [Table 13] Answers by different genders to the barriers to women’s career development (each respondents should select 3 choices)
    Answers by different genders to the barriers to women’s career development (each respondents should select 3 choices)
  • [Table 14] Whom do you expect to be promoted if there is one opening in your department?
    Whom do you expect to be promoted if there is one opening in your department?