Although China has made strides in the promotion and advancement of professional women in corporations, most executives in China are men. Therefore foreigners that happen to be female as well, will find their China experience much different from that of your male counterparts.
It is hard to say whether being a female while doing business in China is an advantage or disadvantage. One disadvantage could be that your male counterparts don’t take you seriously. However, I have not come across much of this attitude. If you are a female executive with the authority to execute contracts and negotiate on behalf of your organization, your signature will hold just as much weight as it would if you were male.
In retrospect, I have never felt as though a transaction or matter was not being taken seriously, or I was being treated unfairly or with disrespect by male counterparts while doing business in China. This is not to say that it doesn’t happen. I am sure it must. But perhaps it is different for foreign females?
My advice for women looking to do business in China is:
1) Remain professional. I cringe whenever I see a foreign woman falling victim to 白酒, or some other alcoholic beverage. If you can’t or don’t drink, don’t decided to start while in China. You won’t be able to keep up with your male counterparts, and in the end a drunken female is the epitome of being unprofessional.
2) Be yourself. There is no need to wear a pantsuit to each meeting, nor a turtleneck in July. Whatever your would describe as business attire in the U.S. should work there, but use your discretion.
3) Show your skills. Obviously if you are doing business in China you are no slacker. Show your substantive skills, intelligence, and ability to get the job done and you will go far. Unless you are trying to save face for a superior, there is no need to hide your talent and your successes. Ultimately, it is these qualities which will make your transaction a success.