It can be easy to get lost in our own immediate reality and forget how different life can be for others around the world. Whether you are located in North America or across the world in South Asia, it is undoubtedly an interesting time for women. There have been many recent events, spanning from Brazil to Russia, that highlight the different attitudes women currently hold and the different attitudes towards women.
Traditional gender roles remain a part of Brazilian culture and largely shape societal attitudes toward women, although this is changing slowly. More and more women are entering the Brazilian workplace, to the point where females now outnumber men in many professional and technical fields.
Brazilian women are sometimes treated differently than their male counterparts and can be subjected to stares or comments on their appearance. Women typically earn less than their male counterparts and are not well represented at senior levels of management, suggesting that women are not viewed as equals in the workplace — yet.
Recent news events have indicated how women in Brazil continue to push for equality and fight for their rights. The recent #NotHim movement aimed at pushing back against presidential candidate Jar Bolsonaro is just one of several highly publicized events that demonstrate Brazilian woman actively trying to shape society’s attitude toward women, and women expressing what they want from society.
Today, the number of women graduating from Chinese universities equals, and sometimes surpasses, the number of their male counterparts. In urban areas, almost all women work, at least part-time. Chinese women have also achieved parity, if not superiority, in terms of their numbers in professional and technical jobs.
Yet some Chinese employers may prefer to hire men rather than women. Some may still hold to the traditional belief that men should deal with the world outside the home and women should restrict themselves to internal family matters.
While attitudes toward women in the workplace are progressing further towards equality, Chinese women do not have access to the same opportunities as their male counterparts in the business world, and they tend to be hit harder when the economy suffers a downturn. Additionally, there is still a wage gap and other areas of difference between men and women.
The wage gap exists primarily in lower-skilled jobs. For occupations such as doctors, engineers, and professors, the wage gap disappears. While women have access to government and upper-level management positions, they still trail men in terms of their representation in these areas.
Despite China’s tight control on activism, there have still been women’s movements making headlines this year. Chinese women adapted the U.S. based #MeToo movement to voice their own experiences and frustration around sexual assault. As the hashtag #MeToo was censored from media, women improvised with hashtags to get around the ban while still attracting attention to their cause. Often the characters “rice bunny,” pronounced “mi tu,” were used as a work-around. Currently, there is not a clear legal definition of sexual harassment in China, nor is there a law that specifically prohibits sexual harassment.
What do women in China think? We asked, “What do you see as the biggest obstacle for women in your country’s workforce?”
“I think the biggest obstacle for women in China’s workforce is marriage and family status. Human Resources would most likely decline a candidate with the status of ‘married but has no kids’ and give preference to those with kids. On the other hand, managers and colleagues might feel a woman with two kids will focus more on family than work. So those with more than one kid might be given less opportunity for important projects and promotions. This paradox makes it difficult for women to advance in the workforce.
China has just abandoned the ‘One-Child Policy’ in the last 3 years. More and more employers hold the concern that if a woman is hired, she might become pregnant and take maternity leave, which is a burden for the company. So they think it is a ‘risk’ to hire women over 30.”
— Eryn Tu, Aperian Global Product Manager, Shanghai Office
In the Indian workplace, attitudes toward women are increasingly becoming similar to those attitudes towards men. Generally, education and experience are weighted more heavily than gender when hiring or promoting people. Women occupy top positions in almost all professional fields — medicine, law, government, technology, engineering, and scientific research — and tend to be well accepted by colleagues and subordinates.
Although attitudes toward women in the Indian workplace are progressive, the journey for women to get there can be a difficult struggle. For example, there are still many rural and semi-urban communities where girls are not encouraged to attend school, in spite of the fact that the Indian government has made education free and mandatory for children up to the age of 14.
For women who enter the professional world, the many outside roles and responsibilities of Indian women are not generally recognized or taken into consideration. Many working women are still often expected to take care of the home and family, and sometimes parents or in-laws as well. Because of this, women in the Indian workforce are often caught between traditional expectations and modern realities.
Although complete equality for education, marriage, inheritance, property rights, and the political franchise is guaranteed by the Indian constitution, this is far from a reality. Laws are not strictly enforced and society has a way to go in catching up to the constitution.
Indian women continue to make strides in getting closer to equality. Although still a contentious issue, recently the Indian Supreme Court ruled that women of all ages are allowed to enter the Sabarimala Temple in Kerala, which sees one of the largest annual pilgrimages in the world with an estimated 17-20 million devotees visiting every year.
What do women in India think? We asked, “Do you feel that attitudes toward women in your country have moved toward a feeling of equality over the last five years? Why or why not?”
“India is a patriarchal society that is largely governed by religious beliefs and social customs. This continues to be the case even today in most parts, due to the historical notion that men are and always will be capable of more just like their ancestors.
That said, women in India in recent years have collectively raised their voices against various concerns in order to gain more equality, not only in the workplace but also in society. Although it’s an uphill battle that is going to take much time and effort, I believe that the first step to bring about change has been taken and the hope is that it will only progress from here.”
— Michelle Mascarenhas, Aperian Global Visual Designer, Bangalore Office
The United States has seen a shift in popular beliefs around gender roles. Women are generally considered capable of having the same jobs and responsibilities as men. Women may be found in roles traditionally only occupied by men, such as military commanders, CEOs, doctors, and politicians, just as men in the U.S. today may be found in roles traditionally held by women, such as nurses, elementary school teachers, flight attendants, or executive assistants.
Still, the predominant assumption and attitude are that women are responsible for providing care for children and family members. Even though women are a major part of the workforce — nearly 50 percent — women hold well below half of all senior business executive or political positions.
There are often different rules governing the expectations of behavior for women in the workplace. What is labeled as assertive behavior in a man may be seen as overly aggressive and unacceptable behavior in a woman. Yet, because there is a lack of models for diverse leadership styles, women may be penalized for not being sufficiently assertive.
Statistics still show a wage gap between men and women. Some show women earning 75 to 80 percent the salary that a male might make; however, these figures are often significantly affected by other factors. For example, more women than men may seek flexible or part-time work to accommodate child-rearing responsibilities. Women with children must juggle family, home, and work responsibilities, which may limit their ability to advance to high-level positions. Flex-time and virtual work options are still limited, especially in top-level positions.
Like Brazil and India, there have been high-profile women’s movements in the United States this year. A viral campaign calling awareness to sexual assault in the film industry quickly spread, giving women the chance to voice their own stories of sexual assault using the hashtag #MeToo.
What do women in the United States think? We asked, “Do you feel that attitudes toward women in your country have moved toward a feeling of equality over the last five years? Why or why not?”
“Over the past several years, I think women in the United States have realized we haven’t come as far as we thought in terms of equality. There is a broader awareness that more work needs to be done to get closer to equality, especially in the way of paid family leave and equal representation on top boards. In other countries, there are quota systems to make sure equal representation is achieved at the highest levels of government and in boardrooms, but attitudes in the US tend to be against quotas, leaving us in a less equal position compared to much of the developed world.”
— Amanda Paulson, Aperian Global Director of Product Development, Oakland Office
The majority of Russia women work outside the home, but like many other cultures right now, they are also generally expected to maintain the household and care for the family’s children. More and more females are starting their own companies and achieving top management roles, but overall the Russian business environment continues to be largely dominated by men.
Russian businessmen — especially those who are older — tend to address the senior male in the group, even if a woman is more senior. Because of the current attitude towards women in the workplace, it is especially important for women to know their subject matter, participate in meetings with confidence, and prove their professional competence.
Behavior such as holding doors for women, which may be considered condescending in some cultures, is still quite common in Russia. In addition, what may sometimes be understood in international business contexts to be “sexual harassment” does occasionally occur in the Russian workplace.
There is evidence times are changing for women in Russia. Russia’s Ministry for Labor has announced it will amend a list of 456 professions that women are currently banned from. Russian women will now be able to work as bakers, sea captains, truck drivers, and other specialized vehicle operators.
Want to learn more about women in other countries?
Outside of her passion for writing and international travel, she has a deep appreciation for working for a company that helps build bridges across cultures. Tessah studied in France and Russia before going to post-secondary and receiving a Bachelor’s Degree in Anthropology. She conducted policy research abroad in Daejeon, South Korea, before receiving her Master’s Degree in Intercultural and International Communication. Tessah completed her Master’s residency at Zhejiang University, in Hangzhou, China and currently resides in Vancouver, BC.