By Kelly Yang
“Lean In” author Sheryl Sandberg has been spending time with the wrong people. If she wants to make progress in her efforts to help more women reach the top of the business world, she should stop talking to young women — and start talking to grandmothers.
All that’s needed is a simple cultural shift, and China can show them how it’s done. There, 51 percent of positions in senior management are held by women, and about 19 percent of its chief executives are women. In the United States, just 20 percent of senior managers and 4 percent of Fortune 500 chief executives are women. The explanation for China’s striking numbers is not the effect of some persuasive TED talk, best-selling book or even better access to affordable child care. Instead, it’s because, in China, the grandparents lean in.
According to the Shanghai Municipal Population and Family Planning Commission, 90 percent of young children in the city are being looked after by a grandparent. In China, it is not uncommon for maternal and paternal grandparents to split duties or travel long distances to help care for their grandchildren. The unofficial motto of these grandparents? Have passport, will babysit.
That’s because the fundamental value of Chinese culture is the community of the family. But rooted in communist history is the notion that men and women are equal and both should work, says Lisa Moore of the Women’s Foundation in Hong Kong. This, coupled with the country’s one-child policy, means that Chinese parents place enormous importance on the success of their children, boy or girl. Chinese grandparents are much more likely than their counterparts in the West to make large sacrifices to provide significant care for their child’s child.