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Women Managers’ Careers in a Chinese Commercial Bank

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posted on 19.04.2017, 14:40 by Yue Fei
China’s rapid economic growth since 1978 has made the country an important place to examine. This growth, though raising 800 million people out of poverty, has also created challenges for the state, one of which is how to integrate China into the global economy, and how to create understanding between distinct business practices. Increasing trade between China and the rest of the world has made it necessary to understand different cultural business practices to avoid conflict and misunderstandings. Another challenge for China is the increasing economic independence of women, which has resulted in the need to address gender inequality in the workplace in terms of women’s experience in their careers. This is a micro-ethnographic study of a Chinese bank in a medium sized city on the east coast of China, and I collected the data between July to September 2012. This includes over 492 hours of observation in the working practices of the bank, examination of 164 documents, and interviews with 51 managerial employees. The study focuses specifically on woman managers in the bank, and examines how they made their decision to work in banking, how their career developed and how they understand gender equality in the bank. It also examines whether they experience discrimination because of their gender, in what is usually regarded as a male dominated career. The study found that the women managers negotiate their gender positions moving between the established feminine and masculine characteristics in their role as managers depending on the context. However more relevant to the female managers is the cultural context of working in a Chinese bank. Guanxi was a prominent feature in this study; this was in terms of recruitment, promotion, discrimination and job allocation. The study argues that guanxi has adapted to the political, social and economic development of China, but continues to be essential for understanding Chinese culture and gender relations in the bank, which would be relevant in other industries in China. The implication is that to work with Chinese companies, other countries need to have a deeper understanding of how guanxi operates if they are able to successfully operate in a Chinese context. Furthermore, this study also postulates that traditional Chinese cultural values promote informal flexible work for women, protect their career progress during their maternity leave, encourage cooperation at work, and encourage commitment to the bank. This study contributes to the discussion on Chinese women’s career in management and argues that categories such as collectivism, individualism, feminism, and masculinity are too narrow for the complexity of the modern Chinese professional woman.



Weik, Elke; Brook, Paul

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School of Management

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University of Leicester

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