Research shows women's views on careers are changing, but some bias remains
Manulife-Sinochem Life Insurance Co Ltd (Manulife-Sinochem) together with the Fudan Development Institute (FDDI) recently issued a white paper titled "Career Options and Risk Management for Women in China" as part of the "2021 Shanghai Forum."
The research shows that the traditional views about women prioritizing family responsibilities are gradually changing. Modern women now increasingly value individual career development and professional achievements. However, more than 60 percent of women surveyed said that they have been asked gender-related questions during job interviews, indicating there is room for improvement in terms of gender equality in the workplace. On the other hand, the "light entrepreneurship" model in the insurance industry is providing new options for female entrepreneurs.
Manulife-Sinochem and FDDI formed a three-year strategic partnership in 2019 committed to the research of issues faced by women in China. Following the publication of white papers on "Female Health and Risk Management" and "Female Retirement Risk Management," this year's research focuses on career options and the opportunities and challenges for Chinese women, covering 55 cities across the Bohai Economic Rim, Yangtze River Delta Economic Zone, Greater Bay Area, and Middle-West Area.
The survey found that 26.8 percent of women listed gender equality as their top concern in career development. Correspondingly, 61.7 percent of women were asked gender-based questions during job applications, with 78.7 percent being asked about marriage and parenting during interviews.
The second-most listed concern was work-family balance, with 20 percent wanting to better take care of their family after work. However, women increasingly value their individual career development with 17.1 percent of those surveyed seeking a "fully-integrated career advancement system." Not surprisingly, the career expectations of modern women have entered a more mature stage.
"Modern working women are now viewing their career development options with different perspectives and dimensions. To promote "Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion" (DEI) in the workplace, more efforts need to be taken by society as a whole, including corporations and individuals," said Zhang Kai, CEO of Manulife-Sinochem. "Manulife-Sinochem is fully dedicated to eliminating subconscious gender bias and supporting female employees' career planning and growth. As of 2020, over 63 percent of Manulife-Sinochem's employees are female and 50 percent of senior management roles are held by women. The insurance industry's model also helps women find a flexible balance between work and their personal lives."
With a positive economic and social environment, there are a growing number of women who choose to start their own business in pursuit of personal development. Research found that women's main motivations are self-achievement and better work flexibility, both with 77 percent favourability in the survey. However, more than 31 percent of female entrepreneurs interviewed still view family duties as the biggest challenge in starting their own business.
This has led to the new concept of "light entrepreneurship." Compared to traditional entrepreneurship, "light entrepreneurship" helps women manage risk by leveraging an existing platform where they can devote their energy, resources, and time in a more flexible way. The insurance agent model is a great example of light entrepreneurship, as agents can realize personal value and achieve income goals in a relatively flexible working environment.
The survey shows that insurance customers often prefer female agents, as they are considered more patient, considerate, and service-oriented. Moreover, 81.2 percent of agents interviewed believe that female agents can more easily gain customers' trust. It also suggests that not only do female agents outnumber male agents, but also the percentage of female agents with over 10 years of experience is much higher, indicating that female agents are typically more established and committed than their male counterparts.
"'Light entrepreneurship' in the insurance agency sector represents a great model for women today. Our research found that nearly 70 percent gain satisfaction from their lives as an agent, with close to 40 percent experiencing positive changes in their family status," said Professor Zhang Yi, executive vice dean of FDDI. "'Light entrepreneurship' can provide modern working women with both self-achievement and work flexibility, allowing them to try out different roles and enjoy equal career opportunities with bright career prospects."