In this year’s recently released list of the World’s Richest Self-Made Women (complied by Hurun Report and Forbes magazine) six out of the top 10 women are from China!
The world’s current richest woman is Guangdong native Zhang Yin, worth US$4.9 billion, who made her riches from the paper industry. (By comparison, worth US$1 billion, J.K. Rowling of Harry Potter fame did not make the top 10 and Oprah Winfrey, worth US$2.4 billion, sits at 9th place).
Mao famously said, “Women hold up half the sky”, and it seems like he was onto something. Experts predict that by 2020, China will have more female billionaires than anywhere else in the world.
Says Rupert Hoogewerf, founder-editor of the Hurun Report: “If this were a ping pong team, you wouldn’t be surprised to hear that five out of 10 of them were from the Chinese mainland. But, when you are talking about the top 10 self-made rich women in the world, this is really mind-blowing.”
As a Chinese woman (and even if you’re not a Chinese woman!), this is really interesting. I sat for a while thinking about China and how policies have come to affect women here, the history of Chinese women, and how they differ from women from elsewhere in the world.
Since 1949, China has promised women’s equality. Mao abolished the practice of foot-binding and women were expected to perform the same jobs as men. In 1950, new marriage laws arose banning concubines and the sale of brides and giving women rights in marriage (where they previously had little or none). These changes in the Chinese family were imposed quickly and radically.
Urban city gals today:
Today, the empowerment of Chinese women is seen most markedly in China’s major urban cities. I remember when I was chatting with university students in Shanghai and one female student in particular stood out to me. During our hour-long chat at a McDonalds near her campus, I asked her: if she could meet any celebrity in the world, who they would be.
Now I’m rather ashamed to admit that I had *expected* her to say the name of a famous singer or actor. So I was extremely (and curiously) surprised when she replied with:
“My dream is to meet Ren Zhengfei.” (founder of Huawei Technologies)
I asked why and she said: “I wish to ask him how he became so successful and to see if there’s any advice he would give to me.”
I then asked (out of sheer curiosity): Have you ever thought of staying at home and taking care of your child… and she replied (seemingly taken aback): “Housewife?! I’ve never even thought about that! I don’t think I ever will!”
Now what is it about China that breeds this class of highly ambitious, highly opinionated woman? Some reasons:
- The base ideal of gender equality as decreed by Mao, setting the tone for future generations to come.
- China’s one-child policy, due to:
a. More opportunities lavished upon girls. No longer are families giving opportunities to the boys in the family and overlooking the girls (often the case due to financial constraints). Single -child girls are given opportunities and self-esteem boosting attention from parents, grandparents, and extended relatives. These girls become their parents hope for a good future, so they are encouraged to get a good education, a good job and beat the boys in school.
b. Freeing up women’s time. With only one child to care for, women take less time off and, simply, have more time to work and focus on their careers.
- Family & community support. In China’s multi-generation households and close-knit community networks and relationships, Chinese women receive more support all-around. Not only in taking care of a child (which is a collective effort), but also support in her career. Lending money for relatives and family friends to start businesses (regardless of gender), favours and guanxi are commonplace and all help the Chinese woman on her road to success.
What does this all mean?
Tons! In general, with the number of successful, powerful, and ambitious women in China on the rise, look forward to changes not only on the business front, but also in society. For with wealth comes political clout. World’s richest woman Zhang Yin recently called for a gradual release of the 3-decade old one-child-policy and we can be sure that these smart, opinionated women will lead the way in many other changes as well.
As marketers, we need to pay attention to our women and to our girls. If they’re not consuming now, you can bet that they will be. And soon. With a fire in their bellies and ambition in their eyes, Chinese women are passionate about succeeding. Let’s help them do exactly that!
Top 10 Richest Self-Made Women in the World: