A woman opens doors

Updated: 2013-06-18 10:28

By Hu Haiyan and Chen Yingqun (China Daily)

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Women should take the initiative to realize their dreams, rather than waiting for the helping hands of others, said Gail Evans, a former executive vice-president of CNN.

"Generally speaking, women across the world are taught to be obedient. Many fairytales tell of men taking action to realize their hopes, yet women are taught to wait to be rescued," said Evans, in the grand lobby of Grand Hyatt Beijing.

"Women should think about what they really want and just go and realize it, instead of waiting for things to happen."

In Beijing for a conference hosted by POWER: Opening Doors for Women, a decade-old organization promoting and developing women leaders, Evans said while things have improved for women, progress continues to be slow.

"Although female leaders are playing an increasingly important role in society, it is not that prominent in many places."

For instance, the percentage of women elected to government leadership positions is low in both China and the United States, which is "unreasonable and strange", Evans said.

A woman opens doors

"As the world's largest and second-largest economies, the two nations should be first or second in the ratio of female leaders. The two nations should cooperate with each other to improve this situation."

According to a United Nations report, the US and China ranked 79th and 90th respectively in the percentage of women elected to government in the world last year.

Evans, author of Play Like A Man, Win Like A Woman, about the secrets of success that men know and women need to learn, said one of the biggest differences between the two sexes is that women are not as collaborative as men.

"It is important for a woman to be an individual, but it is more important to play like a team to win in today's society," she said.

"Take the United States and China, for instance. Women from the two nations share more similarities than differences and we should cooperate and enhance our influence in society."

Evans said her book does not aim to teach women to act like men, but to understand what they really want and to be as independent as men.

Since first being publishing in 2001, the book has been a bestseller worldwide and has been translated into 21 languages, a success that Evans says has surprised her.

"I didn't write this for a global audience, and at first I was afraid that the experience might not work for women in every corner of the world, and some women read the book and get into trouble. But later I find out that the problems for women are basically the same across the world."

For instance, it is still difficult for women in male-dominated societies to attain very high positions of power, Evans said.

Catalyst, a nonprofit membership organization providing research, information and advice about women at work, says that women held 16.6 percent of the seats on boards of directors at Fortune 500 companies last year.

It also says that in both 2011 and 2012 less than one-fifth of Fortune 500 companies had 25 percent or more women directors, while one-tenth had no women serving on their boards.

Evans has been to China many times since she first came to Beijing in 1979. She said that compared with women from other countries, Chinese women are more accepting.

"Chinese culture teaches Chinese women not to promote themselves, to be quiet and hard working. The tradition of being humble and obedient to authority is much more (prevalent) in Chinese society than in the West."

But many problems that American and Chinese women leaders face are similar, one of them being that it is hard to strike a balance between work and non-work life, which needs good time-management skills, Evans said.

Evans herself is a vivid example of striking a balance between life and work. The mother of three and grandmother of seven said that while she has spent a limited amount of time with her family, a result of her globetrotting on business, the time she has spent with them has been "effective".

"I have very open-minded and frank talks with them, doing sports together, which is very effective for us to understand each other".

When she educated her children, she treated her boys the same as her girls, she said.

"I tell my girls that you can do and be anything you want but you should decide what those things are," Evans said. "For women to lead a happy life, just keep going, just not letting little things get in your way. And have confidence; you will do it."

Contact the writers at huhaiyan@chinadaily.com.cn and chenyingqun@chinadaily.com.cn

(China Daily USA 06/18/2013 page9)