Gen Y shaking up China’s workforce

Lisa Martin
AAP, as published in The Australian, 24 October 2014

The next crop of movers and shakers lining up to feed China’s hungry beast economy are struggling with the contradiction of countering gender inequality, while dealing with parental expectations.

For their whole lives, so-called “Asian Tiger parents” have been breathing down their necks spurring them to study, study, study, earn big bucks and bring their family honour.

For many Generation Y youngsters, the weight of expectation can be all-consuming.

The demographic were born under China’s one child policy, introduced in the late 1970s, which has led to a lopsided gender ratio.

The imbalance soared because of access to foetal ultrasound exams and sex-selective abortions, peaking in 2008 at 120 male births for every 100 girls.

The international standard is between 103-107 boys for every 100 girls.

Traditionally in Chinese culture sons were considered more valuable because of their potential to work as labourers.

Late last year, in an attempt to help counter China’s ageing population, the central government relaxed the policy.

But it’s effect on the economy will be felt for a long time to come.

Some studies estimate there are a whopping 32 million more males aged under 20 than females in China.

Remarkably at the Asia-Australia Business College, at Liaoning University in Shenyang, gender stereotypes in this traditionally male field of study are being challenged.

Young ladies outnumber their male counterparts by two thirds at the school in China’s north-east, which has a partnership with Victoria University in Melbourne.

Senior student Li Ting, 21, is on a path towards post-graduate studies at the illustrious Peking University in Beijing and dreams of landing a consultant gig with strategic management firm McKinsey.

But she’s realistic about the challenges that lie ahead and knows she’ll have to work much harder because of her gender.

“It’s a man’s world,” she says.

“I would like to compete, but will take it step by step.”

Confidence and ambition can sometimes only get you so far, Ms Li admits. For example, many companies still advertise positions exclusively for men.

In China, such job advertisements are legal and not viewed as discrimination.

There’s also not many cracks in the glass ceiling and perhaps a lack of potential role models.

Although China has the second highest number of female chief executive officers in the world, proportionally the number isn’t huge.

Another factor holding back young talented Chinese women from racing up the career ladder is parental demands for grandchildren.

Unlike in the west, it’s seen as highly abnormal to delay child birth for career progression until one’s mid-30s.

“Age 30 – that’s the deadline for babies,” she says.

“For men it doesn’t matter.”

Ms Li’s already decided what kind of mother she’ll be.

“I want them to be happy rather than have high expectations for them,” she says.

Fellow student Steiner Ding, 20, says young Chinese men are also under lots of family and societal pressure – to find their Mrs Right and contemplate home ownership as a potential bread-winner in the country’s rapidly overheating property market.

Mr Ding will study in Australia in 2015 before doing a masters degree in America.

For him, career achievement is not the be all and end all.

“I have no such professional ambitions,” he says.

“My final goal … is to raise a dog.”

This article was originally published here.

Lisa Martin was in China for the China Australia Journalist Exchange 2014.