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Social Deficit or Sexual Stalemate?

Dr. Jiafei Jin is a professor at Southwestern University of Finance and Economics in Chengdu, China.

The research on women’s entrepreneurship mirrors that on women’s advancement: both find women lacking when it comes to social networking. Yet, in so many other fields of study, females measure up as more sociable than males.

What is the explanation? We cannot reasonably conclude that women are simply less friendly than men.  One hypothesis is that the social networks that men have are more business-oriented and that men use their friends more instrumentally.  This may indeed be true.  But my colleague, Dr. Jiafei Jin, and I have another theory.

Last year when I was visiting China, I interviewed several female business owners in Hangzhou.  They had just completed a training program. I asked them what would be the next obstacle for women to conquer, once they had sufficient skills, to succeed in business.  I was honestly surprised that they unanimously agreed:  the expectation on the part of bank officers and government officials that long, boozy social engagements would precede loans and licenses.

When Dr. Jiafei Jin and I met up yesterday morning to work on some research ideas, I told him I would like to focus on women and finance, since that will be the theme of the Power Shift Forum in 2014.  We began chatting about the obstacles to capital that are uniquely gender-constrained and I mentioned this little conversation I had in Hangzhou last fall.  He began to nod enthusiastically and went on to elaborate on the social practices common among financiers in China.  Like the ladies I spoke to, he insisted that beyond the dinner was usually a trip to a night club, perhaps with karaoke or “girls.” And, he emphatically agreed that these environments were impossible for women to go to without danger or reputational risk.

So, we had found our research question.  Is the social deficit that studies point to actually a lack of engagement with business networks–or is there a sexually-charged, no-win situation that bars women from making the kinds of connections needed to win financing?

Interestingly, studies done in the The City in London show that women in the big banks hurt their chances of promotion by their “unwillingness” to attend such client entertainments as these.  So, the question of sexually inappropriate and potentially dangerous entertainment requirements is likely to have wide application to cultures around the globe and to be relevant in employment as well as entrepreneurship.

Jiafei Jin and I hope to begin our study within the next month and to have results in time for the next Power Shift Forum.  Stay tuned.


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