What countries have the highest percentage of women in business and on top positions? The ones you would never even think of.
When I moved to the United States, I was astonished by all the hardships women entrepreneurs go through in the world’s citadel of freedom and democracy. The US has always seemed to have all the prerequisites and plenty of opportunities for women to thrive. Though, I do not know any country 100% free from discrimination and sexism, this issue dominates the agenda in the United States more than anywhere else in the world.
This cognitive dissonance has been bothering many women I know here. It’s not easy to grasp what exactly is going on, who is at fault, and how to change the situation. Being a multicultural person myself, I treat every culture with great respect. It took me a while to see the American reality from an unbiased perspective.
What I discovered later, is that women in the United States have a choice: they are raised with a deep understanding that they are given rights they can fight for. In many other countries, women have no choice. They are… just women. They aren’t consciously discriminated, but not strongly supported either. They can try and achieve something, but they can also just remain stay-at-home moms. Men don’t watch them and don’t compete with them (read — don’t expect women to fight and beggar them). Such disregard may seem offensive at first, but in fact, it helps a lot.
However, there is another thing that I’d figured is essential for women’s success. And just earlier today, I have read the same about the Chinese women.
In Bloomberg’s article, Selina Wang and Shai Oster told a story of a very low profile, but uber successful female venture investor Chen Xiaohong. She manages the largest venture capital fund in the world raised by a woman (yup, it’s in Beijing — not in Silicon Valley!). “She and her colleagues are building on a tradition of opportunity for women in China that dates back to before the days when Mao Zedong declared they held up “half the sky.” Women worked out of necessity in fields and factories when the country was poor, and fought alongside men during the country’s civil war. By comparison, collaborating in an office is simple. Mother of another women venture capitalist, who served in the People’s Liberation Army, laughed when she heard about her daughter’s diversity training at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. “She said ‘That’s ridiculous. What’s your job got to do with women or men?’ ”
Two years ago, I wrote pretty much the same about Slavic women for www.thenextwomen.com* and recently, for the book Dear Female Founder of a London-based entrepreneur Lu Li, founder of Blooming Founders.
“Slavic women lived through centuries of monarchy and wars, where men were the sole rulers with absolute and unlimited power. That was not only the political structure of society, but also a frame for commercial and family relationships. […] When the monarchy was overthrown, Slavic woman then stepped into the era of wars. She would lose her grandfather, father and elder brother to the war, leaving her with no choice, but to change her lifestyle and fight for survival. These formative years bred strong, self-sufficient women, as there were very few men around. […] Women were the main working force in those days and replaced men in many jobs.”
I have to admit: at that moment, I would never have thought that Slavs and Chinese own that much in common when it comes to women’s social status. Of course, it’s unfair to say that men in China or Eastern Europe respect women more for their hard work in difficult historic past: hardly anyone consciously thinks about it. But maybe those historical hardships dulled women’s sensitivity to modern discrimination issue, so that they became immune to it now, and treat it as a rainy weather, protecting themselves by a shield when necessary. Ostensibly, it is encoded in their DNA.
I’ve been following discrimination issue in the U.S. for the last 5 years. Much has been said, not much has changed. There is no better recipe for such a situation, than to change our attitude towards something we can’t change. This is what we did at women.vc: we merely showed the number and performance of women venture capitalists without any comparison to men. Because there is no need to compete with them. We have proved ourselves: womens’ VCs performance is above the average in the industry. That gives us immunity to discrimination bias. We merely should overstep it and keep the pace. You should do that too!
*That article was related to Grant Thornton’s International Business Report, which said that more than 40% of executive business positions in Russia are held by women — highest in the world.