Educated women try pouring into the professional workforce

Even as Western Europe and the US struggle in emerge from the global recession, China and India are surging ahead. China is projected to become the world’s largest economy within the next decade; India could leapfrog Japan into third place in individual country GDP rankings as early as 2012. One of the chief engines of these explosive economies are educated women.

Educated women try pouring into the professional workforce in China and India with profound implications for national and multinational corporations. Yet even as employers rely on this growing cadre of white collar women many have little understanding of the complicated career dynamics of this rich tranche of talent. Misconceptions abound from cultural cartoons to western wannabes.

Both the ambitious of female talent in the top two emerging markets and the challenges they encounter are complex, fundamentally different from their western counterparts and significantly nuanced, according to a recent study from the New York based Center for work Life policy. To begin with despite many similarities accomplished women in China and India are not interchangeable.

Chinese and Indian women demonstrate stratospheric levels of aspirations – 76 per cent and 86 per cent respectively desire to a top job double that of their counterparts in the US. But while 85 percent of Indian women consider themselves very ambitious only 66 per cent of Chinese feel the same. This may be partially due to the fact the concept of female ambition is seen through a negative prism in China.

Further while women of both nationalities demonstrate impressive levels of loyalty to their employers 85 percent of Indian women say they are willing to go the extra mile compared to 76 percent of Chinese. Lastly, while ambition holds up throughout an Indian woman’s career life span, it inexorably sinks in her Chinese counterpart.

The first broad based generation to assume the right to a career confronts entrenched social mores that both sustain and sabotage them as they create new roles. Communism’s egalitarian legacy left the expectation that Chinese women would work, regardless of marital or maternal status. In contrast, more than half of Indian women experience pressure from their spouses and in-laws to quit working when they get married. Even after having a first child only 35 percent of Chinese women were pressured to drop out while 52 percent of Indian women were criticized for continuing their career.

Childcare issues drag down the career drams of Indian and Chinese women to a far lesser degree than their western sisters. Working mothers in China and India are able to think thanks to a robust matrix of hands on extended family inexpensive domestic help and an increasingly wide range of day care options.

Eldercare however has the potential to derail a career. The vast majority – 94 per cent of women in India and 95 percent in China are responsible for their parents and in laws with more than half contributing up to 20 percent of their salaries, Filial piety is so deeply rooted that daughterly guilt often exceeds maternal guilt.

Daughterly guilt is even more pronounced in China than in India (88 percent versus 70 percent) where women confront the one two punch of communism’s one child policy and the tradition of a wife caring for her husband’s parents. With demographers projecting a leap in the percentage of the population aged over 60 across these regions; this burden is a ticking time bomb.

Extreme jobs are the norm for educated women in both countries, with a average workweek significantly longer than the standard 40 hours . But Chinese women routinely notch up more than 70 hours per week while Indian women rarely break 60 hours.

Over a third of women encounter bias in the workplace where entrenched old boys net works form nearly insurmountable barriers. However, more Indian women than Chinese – 45 percent compared to 36 per cent feel they have been treated unfairly because of their gender another legacy of communism. For more than half of Indian women, the combination of family pulls and workplace pushes smothers their initial enthusiasm 55 percent have considered scaling back their ambition or quitting their jobs altogether compared with 48 percent of Chinese women.

As highly qualified women in these critical emerging markets struggle to balance the demands of career, children and culture, employers have an unprecedented opportunity to help them fully realize their potential to do so, companies will have to gain a deeper understanding of the ambitious and needs of their top female talent, and alter their policies accordingly. But the lessons learned in attracting sustaining and retaining the best and brightest women can only enhance and strengthen an organization’s operations worldwide. Helping these talented women grow is the surest route to continued growth, now and in the future.