The ‘She’ Age
The world has entered a “she” era now that women no longer doubt themselves but hold their heads high, breaking into once-male domains. We are going to see an age of female leadership as “soft power” becomes more important.
The ‘She’ AgeBy Ming-ling Hsieh
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 593 )
“She” is stunning our times.
Apple developed rose gold products for her.
If “she” was a country, her GDP would be 40% higher than China’s economy.
“She” uses soft skills and flexible leadership to radically change our values and the world.
It is a bright, sunny day in mid-November, 2015. On Rouzongjiao Beach in Changhua's Hsienhsi township stands an excavator sparkling in the sun. On the driver’s seat sits a young woman dressed in a fashionable sporty outfit – shorts, sneakers and a baseball hat.
The 36-year-old is not a model posing for a pinup calendar but is literally the woman in the driver’s seat, not just on the excavator. Wang Hsi-pei is the managing director of Li Ying Heavy Machinery Co. Ltd. in Lugang. Her trade is somewhat unusual: Li Ying buys, sells, services and repairs diggers and other heavy construction machines.
The photo op on the beach marked a special occasion, the launch of an excavator drive around Taiwan. Wang initiated the drive to clean up the island’s littered beaches. Wang loves the sea but was saddened by the fact that most beaches are polluted. So she thought up the excavator drive in the hope that the resulting publicity would draw attention to the marine trash problem.
In preparation for the exhausting drive, Wang built her strength and stamina with daily swimming training for two consecutive months. Excavators are very loud. Even when wearing earplugs the noise is still deafening. The glass windshield does not really protect the driver against the elements, including cold wind, burning sun or pouring rain.
Compared to a car, an excavator moves forward at a snail’s pace. The heavy vehicle can only cover three to five kilometers in an hour, depending on the terrain. So Wang had to drive for 29 days. The trip cost her company nearly NT$4 million.
She urged friends to accompany her and enlisted the help of local residents at predetermined locations to join in the beach-cleaning activities. Wang presented everyone who handed in a bag full of trash collected from the beach with a “Clean Taiwan” mug. Upon her return she decided to found a civic group to continue the beach-cleaning campaign.
“Many people thought we wouldn't make it to the end, but we held out," Wang says.
Women’s Power Sweeps the Globe
Across all walks of life, women are emerging as trendsetters or as leaders of change.
What they have in common is neither age, status nor money. It is a firm belief that change can be brought about, an aspiration and ambition to make the impossible possible.
This January, Taiwan elected the first female president in the Chinese-speaking world, Tsai Ing-wen, and voted in a new Legislature with a record high number of female lawmakers. Attending a forum on the eve of International Women’s Day on March 8, Tsai expressed hopes that with her election female heads of state would become the norm rather than the exception. “I hope that from this year on little girls will write in their notebooks “I want to become president” and not "female president,” Tsai said.
Presently, the top political leaders in Germany, Norway and South Korea are all women. At the beginning of next year, Hillary Clinton might even become the first female president of the United States.
It's not just politics; women are also breaking through the corporate glass ceiling even in traditionally male industries. General Motors CEO Mary Barra in January assumed the chairperson post. Catalyst, a non-profit organization with the mission to increase opportunities for women in business, pointed out in a recent report that in the United States, women currently hold 20 CEO positions at S&P 500 companies, a meager 4%.
In Taiwan, however, women have made it to the top of several large corporations, including HTC, the YFY Group, Tatung, the Test Rite Group and China Life Insurance. They have an even stronger showing in small- and medium-sized companies. According to the latest White Paper on SMEs, published by the Ministry of Economic Affairs last year, women are in charge at 36 percent of the island’s SMEs, up 1.6 percentage points from a year earlier.
These women are going for what they want and like to challenge themselves. International consulting firm PwC pointed out in its recent report Modern Mobility: Moving Women with Purpose that while 70 percent of working women of Generation Y (those born between 1980 and 1995) hope to be assigned abroad, only 20 percent of expats are female.
Given rising competition, companies are desperate to find ways to set themselves apart and open up new opportunities. Few are aware that empowering women can often be crucial for effecting change.
The Peterson Institute for International Economics looked at the performance of nearly 22,000 publicly traded companies in 91 countries. In a recently published report, it said, “there is some evidence that having women on a board may help—and robust evidence that women in the C-level (as in CEO, CFO and COO of management) is associated with higher profitability.”
Credit Suisse, for its part, said in a report that the shares of companies with female board members trade higher than those of companies with an all-male board, regardless of company size or market value.
While it takes statistics and figures to prove the performance of women in business, female politicians get evaluated at the polls.
In Taiwan, the two most powerful people in the soon to be ruling Democratic Progressive Party are women.
But aside from being female, Chen Chu, mayor of Kaohsiung, and president-elect Tsai could hail from different planets so different are their personal backgrounds.
“She was academically trained, while I was trained in real battle. I also feel that the two of us are very different,” notes Chen. She describes herself as having a "revolutionary character.” “You don’t know where you will be the next day, prison might be your home or you might have nothing at all. That’s very different from Tsai Ing-wen’s upbringing in a loving family that doted on her.”
But Tsai has been praising Chen as a role model. The two clearly appreciate each other. It is widely known that Tsai often consults Chen on issues large and small. How did these two women from very different worlds become such close friends?
Helping others to Succeed, Changing the World
In an exclusive interview with CommonWealth Magazine, Chen Chu summed up how Tsai won her over. “When the DPP had hit rock bottom and society seemed to have given up on us, Tsai was willing to assume responsibility. I was moved so much that tears welled up in my eyes. From that time on I began to support her.”
Chen recalls that Tsai did not have her own faction and did not even understand the DPP’s factions very well. “She did not need to understand these; she only needed to insist that the party take a more idealistic course. When she ran into difficulties or obstacles, we helped her straighten out opinions within the party. We definitely needed to assist her, help her resolve many unnecessary difficulties, and allow her to navigate the party smoothly in order to let the party recover more quickly. ”
Even in the machinery industry, long scorned as dirty, dangerous and difficult, women are moving to the fore. Lulu Yen, spokeswoman at the machine tool manufacturer Tongtai Group, initiated the business women networking group “One grain of rice.” Under the leadership of Hiwin Technologies Corp. president Enid Tsai, the group organizes lectures, symposiums, reading circles and company visits to make the machinery industry more appealing to the public. There is a shift underway from the traditional focus on technology and functions to branding, marketing and attractive design.
In the food industry, UTC Foods Chairwoman Lin Hui-mei and Union Rice (ZTE rice) Co. Ltd. Joyce Chuang also founded a networking group for female executives to bring more attention to food safety and environmental issues in an industry that has been plagued by numerous food scandals in recent years.
Women Key to Higher Efficiency
From a scientific angle, there are physical differences between men and women when it comes to thinking and decision-making.
Daisy Hung, professor at the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience at National Central University, said in a TEDxTaipei event that the human brain’s right hemisphere is dominant in emotional expression, whereas the left hemisphere has more control over areas of language and logic. The corpus callosum, which connects the two cerebral hemispheres and makes information transfer between them possible, is thicker in women than in men. As a result, women are better at verbally expressing their emotions.
Moreover, in men, the forebrain and hindbrain are more highly connected through nerve bands, while female brains have more nerve wiring between the left and right side. If concentration is compared to a spotlight, then female concentration generates a broader and less focused light. This allows women to process a vast amount of information simultaneously with some information directly entering the subconscious, thus affecting decision-making.
Since women are about 20 milliseconds faster then men in deciphering facial expressions, they are better equipped to notice emotional changes in their counterparts.
As Anne Moir wrote in her book Brain Sex: The real difference between men and women, “Women are better at picking up social cues, picking up important nuances of meaning from tones of voice or intensity of expression.”
When things get complex and keep changing, women are better at reacting flexibly; they are good at soul-searching, quick to learn and skilled in expressing themselves and taking into account multiple perspectives. Consequently, they are able to adjust to changing circumstances very quickly and move on.
This is why International Monetary Fund Director Christine Lagarde told Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on a visit to Tokyo two years ago that the empowerment of women is essential for Japan’s growth.
Communication to Move Forward
Taiwan's newly elected Legislature began its session in mid-February. Newbie DPP lawmaker Tsai Pei-hui was among the first to take the floor to question Premier Chang San-cheng and Interior Minister Chen Wei-zen over public access to the ministry’s Land Expropriation Examination Committee. Eventually Tsai made Chen promise that public participation in the review process would be discussed within a month.
When taking the floor during questioning sessions, many lawmakers tend to argue with force and grandstand to capture the media spotlight. But Tsai observes that “women are more tenacious [than men]. It's not just about gritting your teeth and toughing it out; it’s more about the willingness to turn things over in your mind.” Such tenacity in getting to the bottom of issues pays off when it comes to negotiating solutions, Tsai believes. Instead of trying to win an argument, intense communication is the key to finding a way forward.
Tsai, who used to be spokeswoman of the Taiwan Rural Front civic group, sees her entry into the Legislature as an opportunity to do more than just pinpoint problems. As a legislator, she hopes to propose solutions to the problems, monitor the government and bring about change.
Women are empathic, flexible yet resolute and good at using self-reflection to stay on the right path. The women of this new age have come into their own, standing tall and confidently shining their light.
Translated from the Chinese by Susanne Ganz