There’s a decent chance you’ve never heard of Liu Qing. However, she’s quite a prominent figure in the Asian business industry. Liu is the president of Didi Chuxing, the largest mobile transportation platform in China. After having worked at Goldman Sachs for twelve years, she switched to the taxi- and ride-sharing business in 2014, and she has made headlines ever since.
Liu is especially admired for her way of doing business with (male) opponents, successfully moving Uber-CEO Travis Kalanick aside after his entering the Chinese market in 2013. She also received praise for the way she led a merger in 2015 between Didi and Kuaidi Dache, its biggest rival at the time, increasing the company from 700 to 5000 people and raising 3 billion dollars in funding. Didi Chuxing is now valued around 50 billion dollars (approximately 44 billion euros).
Liu’s efforts haven’t gone unnoticed. She was on Forbes’ 100 Most Powerful Women list in 2017. That same year, Time included the 40-year old business-executive on its 100 Most Influential People List and showcased her as one of the 20 most influential people in tech in 2018. Liu was born into a prominent family (her father founded Lenovo), but she definitely made her own mark in the Chinese business industry.
“Chinese women seem to be getting richer and more successful by the minute”
The story of Liu Qing doesn’t stand on its own. There’s a change going on in the business world. And it’s something every CEO should pay close attention to.
Chinese women seem to be getting richer and more successful by the minute. According to Quartz, half of the world’s female self-made billionaires are from China. Moreover, the number of Chinese women in senior management positions has recently doubled to 51 percent. About 21 percent of the publicly-traded companies in China have women on their boards, and two of the four companies in the world with all-female boards are – you guessed it – from China.
I find this development quite striking. Not only because it appears that China is ahead of other countries when it comes to accompanying women to the top of business (I will return to this later), but also because China has been known for its politics on gender discrimination. Until a few years ago, the one-child policy led to the neglect of girl’s education and career prospects, with parents preferring a boy instead of a girl and female babies even being murdered.
That seems to be changing now. Even fashion brands anticipate the trend, showing more and more successful and powerful women in commercials. The Japanese skincare brand SK-II gained popularity among Chinese women when it launched a campaign addressing the social pressure that many single, well-educated Chinese women above 25 encounter: that they should get married as soon as possible. ‘Don’t let pressure dictate your future,’ the video states. According to Bloomberg, sales of SK-II products increased by more than 50 percent after that.
“most Chinese women – an estimated 70 percent – work nowadays”
So how is this development to be explained? According to Evan Osnos, who wrote the book Age of Ambition about China in the 21st century, women increasingly have been going into business because the male-dominated Communist Party shut them out of political careers. Also, the one-child policy has led parents to put all their hopes on their daughters, being more likely to send them to school compared to if they had been raised amongst several siblings. It resulted in the fact that most Chinese women – an estimated 70 percent – work nowadays.
However, I think there’s another reason why Chinese women are so successful. Business people from China, and from Asia for that matter, tend to focus on what works best. I noticed this recently when I was in Singapore, where I want to open another location of B. Building Business. In many conversations, I got cut off once I started talking about ways to make entrepreneurship thrive. That all seemed irrelevant, people were more interested in facts and figures. All everyone wanted to know, was: what is the chance of having success? I had to show statistics, dreams, and ideals alone simply weren’t convincing.
It might be just this mindset that has led to the empowerment of Chinese women. There are no outstanding feminist groups that try to raise awareness (not noticeable anyway) for gender equality. Chinese business is not driven by quota or top-down pressure. They simply see that adding women to the business top works well for them. And so they will probably keep doing that.
“Chinese women are taking over the business world, and it won’t be long until they conquer the west”
Fellow-CEO’s that still invest in a majority of male employees should better start thinking twice. Because Chinese women are taking over the business world, and it won’t be long until they conquer the west. Take Liu Qing and the way she (silently) evolves the mobile transportation industry. According to Quartz, ‘she mentors, rather than tries to crush her competitors,’ creating a ‘sense of brotherhood’ between her and her rivals. It’s an approach we’re usually not familiar with, but it might be just the kind of leadership the world needs.
Ricardo van Loenen is founder and CEO of B. Building Business and has a background in marketing.