I have taught at an elite institution in China for nearly eight years and been privileged to teach some of the best graduate students China has to offer. This time has given me I think unique experience and insight into a range of topics that I think most simply do not get access to. With that background, as my belated contribution to Women’s Day, take my advice if you do business in China or are an HR manager here: hire the woman over the man.
Before I say specifically why I believe you should hire the woman, let me tell you what I am not saying. I am not any type of social justice warrior or crusader. Intellectually, I sympathize deeply with the Milton Friedman argument against instituting discrimination laws, though I break with him in practice for a variety of pragmatic reasons beyond the scope of this post. I believe that Richard Sander in his book Mismatch: How Affirmative Action Hurts Students It’s Intended to Help, and Why Universities Won’t Admit It presents the most compelling empirical case against affirmative action in education. Prof. Sander, a self described liberal hippie, shows the pernicious impact mismatched students suffer in outcomes from attending universities beyond their abilities. I believe the much discussed female wage gap, is not non-existent, but poorly understood by activists and overstated in popular uses which female economists have studied extensively.
As a professor, I have little patience for non-performance, lack of drive, and hard work. I have and will fail students no questions asked for some infractions and have no trouble telling students their work simply isn’t that good if that quality and drive to make it top quality fall short. With the quality of students I am blessed to work with regularly, technical ability, skill, or talent are nearly (but not always) interchangeable. Consequently, I do regularly get to understand differentiating qualities of soft skills among students and colleagues. In a university setting, where I am the decided minority and where I am judged internally and externally on the quality of my work, it is vital I make decisions about projects based upon a competitive basis and the results.
I do not give this intellectual background to present some type credentials for righteousness, that is absolutely not the point of this background. In fact, I almost intend to convey just the opposite. I sympathize with NBC CEO Jack Donaghy who rightly notes “human empathy. It’s as useless as the Winter Olympics.” I am not a social justice warrior and don’t believe I am serving any students or research assistants by treating them as charity cases. They need to compete in school and when they enter the work force. I lean much more to the Sheryl Sandberg view of women in the work place in Lean In. Rather than treating women as a social justice mission, I think we should urge women to compete, ask for greater responsibility, or push for the promotion.
Now let me tell you why you should hire a Chinese women over a Chinese man: they are generally better candidates. Period. Even granting for a small to moderate difference in quantifiable factors, Chinese women are better job candidates then their male counterparts.
Let me give you a couple of hard reasons why. First, their quantifiable “weaknesses” are less comparable. Let me give you a simple example. Assume you have a male and a female candidate with the same test scores. It is very likely that the male had less disadvantages to overcome to get that same test score. That female candidate very likely had to work harder with less to obtain the same test score. That is why I said earlier, even with a small discount in quantifiable factors, female candidates are better.
Second, their “soft skills” are typically better than male candidates. Because Chinese women have to work harder to achieve as much as Chinese men they have better developed soft skills. From things like punctuality and project management to understanding unspoken situations and flat out being prepared to work harder. I suspect part of this comes from their need to work harder trains them better for later.
Third, however and on the negative side, Chinese women have typically been so trained not to compete that accept less than men even though they are on average, in my opinion better candidates and workers. I have heard more than a few times: Chinese boys become investment bankers and girls become commercial bankers. The implication being men work harder, are smarter, and leave the women the administrative tasks at SOE banks that let them come home at 5 to take care of the two children. Men in China are much more used to getting things by playing the man card even if they are not as qualified. I urge my female students that they have to go out and compete and push for those promotions.
Maybe I notice this more because I am living in a foreign country, maybe because I’m older, or maybe I have two daughters. Could be any number of things and I do not mean to exclude US shortcomings in this area only that I focus primarily on China. So if you are an HR director in China or hiring, trust me when I say: hire more women. This isn’t about social justice but good business.