Why are Chinese business women so successful?

A commentary by Ruth Schimanowski on the occasion of the International Women's Day.

In China, the proportion of women taking up top management positions in large corporations is among the highest worldwide. (31% according to GrantThornton, 2017.) Last year Bettina Al-Sadik-Lowinski published experiences and lessons learnt from the Shanghai Womens´ Career Lab(*). Her analysis of career paths and patterns of 35 Chinese top business women is a great read and provides a comprehensive insight to how Chinese women rise.

Having lived and worked in China for more than two decades, I know many women in China to have different career paths than my female friends back home in Germany. So apart from individual determinants and personal skills or behaviors, I do believe there are external factors that favor the job advancement of women in China more than in the Western world.


  • Chinese society is very ambitious and stresses the key importance of education starting from an early age. The competitive educational grading system less gender biased strictly focusing on academic test results. In the business world, it seems everyone in China is constantly looking to move up the career ladder. The social prestige that goes along with a high position in a company is very precious, no matter whether you are a man or a woman. 
  • Motherhood does have an impact on women’s careers in China, too. Many challenges come along with the new role as a mother. However, family planning has limited the number of children mostly to one thus still allowing mothers to pursue very successful careers. Furthermore, support for childcare is readably available through either early-retired grandparents or full-time caregivers. Once children go to school, there is a comprehensive boarding school system allowing mothers to focus on their job.
  • The social pressure in modern China is tremendous. In order to be able to financially support their children as well as parents, Chinese need to continuously look for better paid job opportunities. The chance for a good work – life balance comes much later than in Western countries.

In my experience, many Chinese women are so successful in their careers not because it is easier to be so in China, but because they have been raised and are supported to be ambitious and because it pays off. I myself have been inspired by this mindset and environment. I am thankful for the many advice and examples that Chinese friends have given me. Let us today be grateful for the opportunities previous generation of women have fought for and which have allowed us rise. Let us be proud of what we have achieved and encourage each other to continue to narrow the gender gap.  May our daughters build on our experiences and networks. Happy Women´s Day!

Ruth Schimanowski came to China in 1999 and started her career as an engineer at a medical plant in Shanghai. She now is the Managing Director of the German Centre for Industry and Trade Beijing. She has two daughters and two sons in the age of 5 to 17 years.


* “How Chinese Women Rise – what we can learn from Chinese women with successful careers in top management”, Cuvillier Verlag, 2018, by Dr. Bettina Al-Sadik-Lowinski

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