You can fulfill your dreams in your work life and also enjoy your family life.
That’s the message that PwC China’s Xing Zhou works hard to impart to her female staff members. “I view it as an achievement that as the mom of two children, I am able to find the balance and can serve as a role model for others in my firm and industry,” she says.
Zhou began her career with the Central Bank of China where she spent three years before deciding on a career change that took her to PwC in Shanghai. She soon was offered the opportunity to work in the New York office where she was promoted to manager before returning to her hometown of Beijing.
For the past 14 years she has worked with PwC in Beijing. Zhou is currently the insurance industry leader for PwC China where she oversees all the services they provide to the insurance industry, including audit, consulting and tax.
Since insurance is a relatively new industry in China, Zhou says it has been gratifying to watch the discipline mature over the past 14 years and see the contributions that PwC’s team has made to its growth, as they work with regulators and key market players to introduce best practices from the firm’s expertise overseas.
Going for the Gold
Recently, Zhou participated in one of her most exciting professional obligations to date: She was chosen to be part of the eight-person delegation that represented Beijing’s winning bid for the 2022 Winter Olympics. She participated as the financial expert on the committee, collaborating with many top dignitaries, including the Vice Prime Minister of China and Mayor of Beijing.
“To have all these accomplished people respect my professional expertise in finance provided an incredible amount of satisfaction, to have my many years of hard work acknowledged,” she says.
Participating in the committee was also rewarding because it reinforced that she was able to take on any challenge, even something outside of her comfort zone. “Each success like this builds your confidence,” she notes.
Promoting Diversity from Different Angles
Zhou says that the concept of diversity is newer in China and Hong Kong than in the western world, and was largely introduced by global companies such as PwC. While gender diversity is important to ensure that female employees have equal opportunities for promotions and upward mobility, she says that China’s culture, which encourages women to work outside the home, makes it easier to balance men’s and women’s roles.
However, there are two new areas where they are shining the diversity spotlight. The first is on cultural diversity, where teams of people from mainland China, Hong Kong and expatriates are learning to work together and value the viewpoints and contributions of disparate groups.
In addition, they are increasingly encountering generational diversity from younger colleagues, as well as younger clients due to the many new start-up firms that seek their services.
As Diversity Leader for PwC China/HK, Zhou’s core focus is to create an inclusive working environment. She acknowledges that’s easier to talk about than to create, so she says that it’s important to make sure that diversity is part of the strategy of the firm.
One way they encourage diversity is through recruiting, by intentionally making sure that they seek a diverse pool of candidates, which includes bringing folks together from mainland China and Hong Kong as well as expatriates. As a consequence, the advisory team stands to benefit from a plurality of talent.
Then they have a three-pronged strategy to ensure the concept infiltrates throughout the firm.
First, PwC makes sure everyone understands the issue by providing mandatory training to leaders on unconscious bias; then they share those lessons with the rest of the workforce; and finally they intentionally monitor it via KPIs.
Work/Life Balance Challenges
The biggest challenge that Zhou finds Chinese women face is pressure from their families – from husbands through in-laws – to work less. She feels part of that stems from the traditional one-child policy, which put the sole family focus on caring for one baby.
She hears from her employees that sometimes their families assume their focus will shift from their work to their child when they become mothers.
“When my staff members come to me and say that they feel pressured, I ask them, ‘What do you want?’ I remind them that being a mother brings life changes, but that they remain the same person they always have been,” she says, adding that everyone has their own specific goals; some may choose to dedicate most of their time at home, while others may elect to continue working.
“Each person has to look inside themselves and make their own choice without feeling pressure from family members, and then ask them to support that choice,” she asserts.
She also finds that global mobility for women is a growing area of focus. While PwC has a mature global mobility strategy, it’s become a hot topic for many Chinese companies that have started to globalize their businesses, but don’t yet have policies in place. PwC has been instrumental in sharing best practices, having recently published a thought leadership paper on moving women with purpose.
Part of the reason that women don’t go overseas from China as frequently is that few companies have formal policies in place, and often there is no mechanism to survey them to assess their interest. Interestingly, she says that when PwC surveys its employees, 70 percent of them express interest in an overseas assignment. From there, the key concern is the career path after they return.
Maintaining Work/Life Balance in Her Own Life
Zhou values her work/life balance and appreciates the support she receives from her parents and in-laws, but most of all her husband. As a doctor, he understands the professional challenges she faces and the two of them are able to support one another’s struggles and schedules.
Weekends are family time – even when there is work to be done. Her children love to join her at the office, where they can draw on the whiteboards and find other ways to amuse themselves. She encourage her staff to bring their children in as needed, also.
Finally, her family plans plenty of outside activities from skiing to weekly art lessons they take together. And, she adds, she loves to cook, a hobby that her family can enjoy also.