Women In China And India Better Off Than In America?

Women may not be running half the companies in this country, but at least America is better on the gender front than China, where an epidemic of sex-selective abortions means tens of millions of boys won't be able to find a girl his age to date, or India, where the majority of women have been groped, grabbed or subjected to other lewd behavior as they ride the bus.

It turns out, America doesn't actually promise more gender equality, at least when it comes to career advancement. In India, 11 percent of CEOs at the largest 250 corporations are women. In the U.S., it's 2.5 percent. Of the 14 women in the world who have made over $1 billion, half are Chinese. In contrast, just three Americans make the list: Doris Fisher, the co-founder of the Gap; Meg Whitman, the founder of eBay; and media mogul Oprah Winfrey. Ninety-one percent of Chinese businesses have women in senior leadership, and almost a third of senior management is female, compared to 23 percent in the U.S.

Not only are China and India beating the U.S. at these highest of high rungs, college graduates in these two emerging markets have more moxie than their American counterparts. In a survey conducted by the nonprofit think tank Center for Work-Life Policy (CWLP), 36 percent of college-educated American women described themselves as very ambitious, compared to 65 percent of Chinese grads. Fifty-two percent of the U.S. respondents aspire to a top job, as do 72 percent of the Chinese women and 85 percent of the Indians polled.

It probably helps that China and India's economies have been soaring, while America's has sputtered. Hope is high for young people in these ascending powers, who know that with a little education a quality of life beyond their parents' dreams is almost guaranteed.

Over half of Indian companies in every industry are currently hiring. The IT sector is exploding by 32 percent. Indian and Chinese companies, hungry for talent, can't afford to discriminate on anything but the ability to do a job. Many of these firms are hiring in the U.S., absorbing some of our own homegrown joblessness. A few Indian companies have outsourced call centers to the United States.

"In a world of depressing news, it's pretty fabulous to see this kind of momentum," says Sylvia Ann Hewlett, economist and founder of CWLP and co-author of "Winning the War for Talent in Emerging Markets," at a conference last week sponsored by The Economist.

China's one-child policy is also partly responsible, Hewlett adds. Almost all Chinese girls born after 1978 have no brothers, no siblings at all. In a culture that prizes education, success, and legacy, and places the burden of these values traditionally on the eldest son, this means that Chinese women 31 and younger "were the full recipients of their father's ambition," Hewlett points out. "The aspiration of Chinese women is off the charts." They now make up 65 percent of college graduates and 40 percent of top MBA programs.

Indian women are also racking up degrees, now making up 42 percent of college graduates. Half of those women then go on to get a post-graduate degree, compared to 40 percent of men.

For China and India to sustain their sudden growth (9.5 percent and 7.7 percent, respectively), they need to court their countries' credentialed and ambitious women. But they're having mixed success. Chinese and Indian women are still loaded with cultural expectations that slow any climb up the ladder.

In China, women are expected to care for their parents and 95 percent of them do so, according to a CWLP survey. This often requires relocation, cutting hours, moving to a less intense job, or leaving the workforce altogether. Eighty-six percent of Chinese women feel "maternal guilt," a feeling that many American working mothers are familiar with. But 88 percent feel "daughterly guilt" too.

Indian women are the most stressed in the world, according to a Nielsen survey of 6,500 women in 21 countries. Eighty-seven percent of Indian women feel stressed most of the time, often working in intensive corporate environments while still burdened with full-time family work.

China and India don't represent perfect models of work-life balance, and American women in many ways have an easier time. There's nothing here like the "gendercide" of China or the daily molestations of female commuters in India. But while young women graduating in America today are greeted by a bleak job market, and numbers, like the pay gap, that haven't budged in a decade, Indian and Chinese women are coming of age in societies transforming by the minute, with companies desperate to make their female talent happy. And with capital ever more mobile, American women, and men, won't just find themselves competing against each other, but against high talent in the emerging world too.

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