Home ConsumerCulture 9 inspiring interviews to read during Women’s History Month

9 inspiring interviews to read during Women’s History Month

From British Ambassador to China Dame Caroline Wilson to Jardine Matheson’s Adele Ma and wine bar founder Layla Wang, these 9 women have all carved out a path for themselves despite the challenges

by Robynne Tindall
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TikTok’s parent company, Bytedance, has a female CEO, and the country is home to two-thirds of the world’s female billionaires. Yet social pressures and media representation still pose challenges for many women in China. Ahead of International Women’s Day, FOCUS showcases 10 women who have overcome these challenges to succeed in China

Chinese women are showing that, as Mao once famously said, they do indeed “hold up half the sky”. Millions of inspiring female entrepreneurs have transformed society by smashing through glass ceilings in their respective industries; a 2021 report by Hurun Research Institute showed that China is home to an astonishing two-thirds of the world’s top female billionaires.

But the situation is not all rosy, especially further down the career ladder. In 2020, the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap report found that only 9.7% of board members of publicly-listed companies in China were women, despite women accounting for 43.2% of the workforce.

Women also lag behind in the political sphere, especially at the most senior levels of China’s political system. Women represent just 8.8% (11 out of 205 seats) on the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, one of China’s highest organs of government. No woman has ever sat on the Politburo Standing Committee.

This lack of political representation reflects some of the broader social issues facing women in China. Traditional gender roles do still influence today’s society, especially when it comes to family and marriage. The term ‘leftover women’, which refers to women in their late 20s who are still single, is going out of fashion, but the idea that women must be married by a certain age still holds strong. ‘Marriage pushing’ is common, and young women face considerable pressure from their parents and relatives to get married.

Despite these challenges, sparks of hope abound: women have access to more job opportunities across all industries, are graduating from university in greater numbers than ever before, and women’s issues are becoming more widely discussed across society. For companies keen to advance their cause, success awaits.

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HMA Dame Caroline Wilson on trade and future UK-China relations

Appointed British Ambassador to China in late 2020, Dame Caroline Wilson is the second woman to hold the position after Dame Barbara Woodward (British Ambassador 2015-2020). Arriving at a time of increased diplomatic challenges (not to mention the Covid-19 pandemic), she spoke to FOCUS about her goals for trade, climate and beyond.

The UK and China have already achieved so much together but I want us to have an even more ambitious future agenda.

For the full interview with Dame Caroline Wilson, click here.

Entrepreneur Mirjam Thieme on what makes a great female role model

Mirjam Thieme is the owner and CEO of MB it-Consulting China, where she works with companies as a business consultant. She told Focus about the strong women in her family that inspired her to pursue her dreams, as well as the work she does with not-for-profit communities and organisations in China.

I believe that if you don’t stretch yourself you’re contracting, both in body and mind

For the full interview with Mirjam Thieme, click here.

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Yonina Chan on kicking butt in the self-defence sector

For Yonina Chan, general manager and women’s division head of self-defence at Krav Maga Global in China, a positive female role model when she was starting out in her career helped her to develop a mindset that would help her succeed in a traditionally male-dominated industry.

When you work in an environment like this with people from all walks of life, you can’t really advance if you don’t develop the self-awareness to grow as a person

For the full interview with Yonina Chan, click here.

Cambridge Assessment English’s Min Qu on how language can empower women in the workplace

Min Qu has been working in the education industry for almost 21 years, and her passion for supporting learning and making a positive impact came through clearly in her recent interview with FOCUS. In her role as Director for Asia Pacific at Cambridge Assessment English (CAE), she leads a team across seven countries in the region.

Men and women are equally talented and capable. They may be different in many aspects but no decision should be based purely on gender

For the full interview with Min Qu, click here.

Wine bar founder Layla Wang on “starting before you feel ready”

Layla spoke to FOCUS about how her passion for wine and experience in the hospitality industry inspired her to get into the wine business and share her passion with others, as well as the importance of female sommeliers as role models for her entrepreneurial journey.

Things don’t always go to plan and sometimes it does make you want to give up. But the benefits of having your own business outweigh the downsides

For the full interview with Layla Wang, click here.

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How Modern Water’s Linian Li leads with an environmental edge

For the past 10 years, Linian Li has formulated Modern Water’s strategy and grown the company’s business in China. But it was not an easy journey as a female leader in an industry dominated by male engineers. She tells FOCUS that it took her two years to enter the water management industry, despite having an MBA in Natural Resource Energy and Environment, and that she faced several gender-related challenges along the way.

I was discouraged by colleagues not to go to our Oman project because there were no toilets for women on-site

For the full interview with Linian Li, click here.

Yeyo co-founder Christiana Zhu

Christiana Zhu on turning a lifestyle need into a business idea

When Christiana Zhu moved from New Zealand to Beijing, the smoggy environment sent her immune system into overdrive. She started making a dairy-free coconut yoghurt (dubbed Yeyo) to help her immune system and gut health and realised this would be worth sharing with others. Now, having brought her sister on board as a partner and raised seed funding, Yeyo is a popular commercial product.

One of the biggest differences is having a partner to work with. Two brains are definitely better than one

For the full interview with Christiana Zhu, click here.

Noxolo Bhengu on bringing your own seat to the table

As an artist and an entrepreneur running a cultural, catering and events company, as well as a theatre company, it was of paramount importance for Noxolo Bhengu to live a life that reflected all of her passions and equally held space for all of them. She tells FOCUS how this philosophy influenced her entrepreneurial journey.

You can no longer ask for a seat at the table — grab your chair, carve your own table and build from there

For the full interview with Noxolo Bhengu, click here.

Jardine Matheson’s Adele Ma doesn’t believe in the phrase “give up”

“Some of my colleagues gave me the nickname the ‘iron lady’”, Adele Ma, Chief Representative in China for Jardine Matheson, often jokes. “They know that I like the word ‘give’, and I like the word ‘up’, but in my dictionary, there is no such thing as ‘give up’!”

Make friends and build trust. Then you can develop business partnerships with those you think could be your friends

For the full interview with Adele Ma, click here.

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