Sunday, June 5, 2011

Is There a Glass Ceiling for Chinese Executives?

Chinese executives at multinational companies feel left out of Asia strategy-setting and senior level decision making, according to a new study. They often have difficulties feeling at home in their global organizations.

China managers feel sometimes that they are not seen as potential global leaders. They also believe that leadership traits that considered crucial to success in the West are not always natural to Chinese culture. Conversely some Chinese cultural norms like establishing “guanxi” run counter to the policies and procedures of MNCs and may even violate ethics rules. Finally interests like wine tasting and sports that may draw people together in a MNC may not be shared with Chinese.

In the long term, these findings may mean that Western companies find it harder to recruit top China candidates because China managers prefer to work at Chinese companies. Chinese companies may offer more opportunities for leadership, and a more familiar corporate culture where speaking English is not required.

The findings of the study, conducted by Community Business and sponsored by leading multinationals like American Express, PepsiCo, Johnson & Johnson and Shell were presented in Shanghai this spring in a presentation at Linklater’s law firm called “Bringing Out the Best in Asian Talent.” The study makes some common sense recommendations to MNCs:

- Communicate your “hiring brand”: Focus on communicating the long-term stability and future prospects of your organization, your commitment to operating and investing in the Chinese marketplace and your emphasis on individual employee development.
- Localize senior management and develop more Chinese leaders as role models.
Make an effort to create a more inclusive work environment and culturally sensitive networking opportunities. Not everyone plays golf.
- Leave expatriate assignees in place for longer assignments. This will allow Chinese employees to build stronger relationships as well as to benefit from the language and corporate culture training that the expatriate can bring.
- Provide more conferences, travel and long term foreign assignments for Chinese executives to the headquarters country.
- Establish a local presence and relationships with local suppliers, partners and community organizations. Work on building a quasi-local presence that will be respected by Chinese employees and potentially perceived as more domestic in nature.
For more information about the Community Business study, please visit: For information about how to find great China managers, please contact me.

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