China's New Working Women

An Innovative Program Helps Factory Employees Sharpen Skills for Work and Life

Not long ago, if Candy Luo experienced a challenge in her job—a difficult co-worker, say, or a difference of opinion with a supervisor—she was as likely as not to sidestep it. There’s not much I can do, she would think, because I’m a woman. And women are supposed to be soft.

She rarely shrinks from a challenge anymore.

An order-entry clerk in the customer service department of our Retail Branding and Information Solutions factory in the Nansha district of Guangzhou, Candy, 28, is a graduate of A New SHE Program, a professional development program we launched in partnership with the NGO BSR in 2015. Offered at three of our facilities in China, the program provides more than 100 hours of education on issues both personal and professional. Women learn about exercise, nutrition, and personal financial management. They also build career skills like public speaking, problem-solving and becoming a line leader.

According to senior human resources manager Lily He, A New SHE grew from a need among the thousands of women who’ve moved from rural areas to work in China’s booming manufacturing sector—and among the global companies, like Avery Dennison, that employ them.

“Recruiting and retaining shop-floor workers has become a big challenge,” she says. “Almost half of our factory workers are women, and 97 percent of them have a high-school education or less. They are in high demand at factories, and they are no longer satisfied to simply get a job. They want a career where they can learn, advance and lead.”

Helping female workers build career skills is good for them, and good for our company, says Eileen Lu, the plant manager at our Suzhou factory, and the first woman to hold that position.

“A New SHE graduates influence their whole team, women and men alike. It helps improve our whole workplace culture. Women coming out of A New SHE are better communicators and they’re more invested in our performance as a company, and more aware of their role in driving it. They work not only happier, but faster. That lifts the morale and performance of their teams.”

He Wei, a 35-year-old senior logistics clerk at our Panyu factory, says she’s now more confident about speaking up and sharing her opinions—and better at listening. “I’m more open to hearing different perspectives from my colleagues and supervisors. I can put myself in their shoes and look for the win-win solutions that help us work better as a team.” Her favorite part of the program was the course on being a line leader, which she hopes will enable her to advance her career.

She says the program is also paying off at home.

“I didn’t really know anything about personal financial planning. “Now my family follows a budget, and we’re saving for our future.”

Candy, the mother of a two-year-old, agrees. “The parenting training was very practical. I understand more about nutrition now, and I cook healthier food for my daughter. I created an exercise plan for my husband and daughter and myself, to keep us in good health.”

Helping young women sharpen their skills, grow in their confidence and sufficiency, and unlock their potential to assume leadership roles.

“A New SHE is a response to the culture change in China over the last 10 or 20 years, in which women are being encouraged to take on more leadership roles at work. In my plant, we have a goal that 50 percent of our leadership will be female. A New SHE is creating the leaders we need, while also helping them develop as people.”

Candy Luo agrees. “It was powerful to understand that in my job I can choose a response that is stereotypically masculine or feminine. I can choose to be soft or choose to be strong. Being a woman means being both.”

 

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