Caixin
Sep 22, 2017 05:27 PM
SOCIETY & CULTURE

Are Chinese Firms Blazing Trails in Getting More Women Into Boardrooms?

Ctrip CEO Jane Jie Sun. Photo: Ctrip
Ctrip CEO Jane Jie Sun. Photo: Ctrip

What has allowed many women in China to rise to the top of sectors such as finance and technology that continue to be male-dominated across the world?

“About 17% of the partners at venture capital firms in China are women, compared with 10% in the U.S.,” said Jane Jie Sun, CEO of Ctrip, addressing the “She Loves Tech” Global Startup Competition in Beijing last week.

“Also, 80% of China’s investment companies have at least one female partner, compared with only 50% in the U.S. Women have also had a hand in founding 55% of internet startups over the last three years in China,” she added.

With women holding nearly a third of its senior management roles, travel giant Ctrip is among a handful of Chinese companies that have managed to ensure that a significant proportion of their workforce are women, without adopting controversial practices like setting gender quotas.

“At Ctrip, women represent 41% of middle management and 33% of senior management. In our senior management ranks, including myself, our chief operating officer and chief financial officer are also female,” said Sun.

Over 50% of Ctrip’s employees are also women. Sun who worked in Silicon Valley for over a decade before returning to China notes that less than 20% of the employees of the top 25 tech companies in the Valley were female in 2016.

“We never set gender-based barriers in recruitment, and have a policy of ‘same work, same pay.’ We also provide pregnant staff with paid leave and subsidies such as reimbursing their taxi fares,” said Sun, outlining how the world’s second largest online travel agency retains talented women.

Sun talked to Caixin about how Ctrip has created a work culture that fosters equality and innovation and how this impacts the company’s bottom line.

Caixin: You joined Ctrip when it had a $500 million market capitalization and you’ve seen it grow into a company with over 30,000 employees and a $30 billion valuation. How did the company manage to grow so quickly?

Jane Jie Sun: Ctrip is very fortunate to operate in a very large travel market. We’re not just offering the (widest) selections of travel products and services, we’re also very much about providing the highest quality services to our travelers.

The travel market is not about competition but collaboration and bringing together the best resources and knowledge to better service travelers. Ctrip has made a lot of investments in outstanding travel industry players since 2009. We invested in eLong, Qunar and many other partners in the accommodation, transportation and tour operating fields. We invested in MakeMyTrip for India’s high growth potential, and Skyscanner (a travel company based in Edinburgh) for its excellent products and technical abilities, to further enrich our product and service offerings.

Also, a big part (of) how we’re able to scale the business is our continued investment in R&D. We’ve fostered a culture of innovation. Ctrip has an internal innovation initiative, called the Baby Tiger program, under which each of our business lines are structured as an independent business unit having their own CEO, CFO, CTO functions. Many of Ctrip’s innovative new products and services were incubated (in) the Baby Tiger program.

For example, the founder of the car rental service and bus ticket reservation service was an employee in our transportation business unit. He noticed that people wanted to rent cars or buy bus tickets when they traveled. After he presented the idea to Ctrip’s management he was given (a) couple of million yuan in seed investment to get his business started.

So, Ctrip is able to drive innovation, make decisions faster and flatten hierarchy.

You’ve also worked for over a decade in Silicon Valley. How do you compare the workplace culture in the Valley and in China’s tech companies?

I learned a lot from Silicon Valley. It is truly a global community made up of people from all over the world and different cultures. And I was quite inspired to be part of this melting pot where everybody is driving towards the common goal of advancing technology. Our co-founder and Executive Chairman James Liang also worked and studied in the Bay Area for quite a number of years. As a result, we are very fortunate to be exposed to global perspectives and Western management methodologies and values. We applied these methodologies to Ctrip early on. This includes processes such as Six-Sigma and the Balanced Scorecard for evaluations.

Ctrip is one of the few companies with an in-house nursery for employees’ children. How did the idea for the nursery come about and what has been its impact on employee retention?

As a working mother, I fully understand how difficult it is to balance family and work, especially for working parents who need help looking after their children when they are working. This is how this came about. Besides the nursery, we also provide nursing rooms and rest zones on campus for our employees. We have special summer school programs as well. We also provide abundant benefits for our pregnant employees. James Liang, our executive chairman, is also a well-known economist with a focus on innovation and population. He believes a large population base underpins innovation and entrepreneurship and this drives economic development. Ctrip adheres to this mantra in our way by ensuring we take care of our employees and create a family-oriented culture.

After the scrapping of the one-child policy, many working women fear that their chances of getting hired or promoted will be jeopardized if they opt for a second child. How does Ctrip prevent this form of discrimination and what can other companies learn from your practices?

Ctrip encourages pregnancy and (having) a second child, and we are committed to gender equality. We never set gender-based barriers in recruitment, and have a policy of “same work, same pay.” We provide pregnant staff with paid leave and subsidies such as reimbursing their taxi fares. We hope to influence more women in the workplace and foster an environment for women to realize their potential. I believe physical differences don’t (restrain) women from leveraging their traits and leadership style to hold important positions in an organization. I am encouraged to see more women in senior positions now, but we need to continue to push forward. Recently Ctrip signed the CEO Statement of Support for Women’s Empowerment Principles, a collaboration between UN Women and UN Global Compact, to further the principles of gender equality at the company. At Ctrip, women represent 41% of middle management and 33% of senior management. In our senior management ranks, including myself, our COO and CFO are also female. I believe these efforts we’ve made through the years are the reasons why Ctrip’s female employee base is over 50% today.

How does the recent overseas expansion drive with investments in U.S. travel agencies, the Skyscanner deal and becoming the second biggest stakeholder in India’s MakeMyTrip.com support Ctrip’s vision?

Ctrip’s mission is to create more enjoyable travel experiences. We believe traveling makes the world a more peaceful place. Skyscanner shares (a) very similar vision and values (with) us and they have a strong technology foundation. Through MakeMyTrip, we are positioned to capture India’s large travel opportunity. India’s population is comparable to China now and growing. Our investment in US tour operators enables Ctrip to provide services and products to Chinese outbound customers.

Given that only about 10% of Chinese nationals have a passport what are the trends you see in terms of outbound travel? Do you see it surpassing the demand for domestic travel any time soon?

Yes, the travel industry in China has a very promising future. When you compare this 10% passport-holding rate to that of the United States at roughly 40%, and the population size of China, it is very clear that there is still a large untapped opportunity for outbound business. At the same time, there are also tremendous opportunities for the domestic market, especially in lower-tier cities. Ctrip has been actively growing its customer base by penetrating into lower-tier cities through increased product offerings, opening physical travel agency stores and targeted marketing campaign(s). In the second quarter of 2017, our user traffic in second-tier cities showed an increase of 50% year-(on)-year.

Contact reporter Poornima Weerasekara (poornima@caixin.com)

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