Stepping Stones is a non-for-profit organization that promotes English teaching addressed to rural migrant children in Shanghai primary schools. Thanks to Stepping Stones’ hard work, improvement of basic education is happening. Paper Stone Scissors sponsored them during our event and non-profit platform Now&Them and raised funds for them. Subsequently, we also helped Stepping Stones rebrand their identity in a way in which they could better communicate with people and improve their image.
We decided to interview Corinne, the Executive Director at Stepping Stones, to get some insights and opinions related to women in China.
Paper Stone Scissors: How is Stepping Stones different from other charities that promote English learning in Shanghai?
Stepping Stones: I think we are the only organisation that specialises in English education for disadvantaged children, though there are other organisations that also teach English to disadvantaged children among other projects.
PSS: You had the new identity now for more than a year, can you see any difference from when you had the old one?
SS: The new identity makes us come across as more professional than before. It has definitely grown on all of us. Even those stakeholders who were not sure at first really like the new image now, and people often compliment us on our striking logo (for example just the other day at the Expat Show when someone asked us who did it for us).
PSS: People often wonder about the differences between how men and women lead. What are your thoughts on that?
SS: Traditionally, I think men are considered to have a more top-down and hierarchical leadership approach and women to be more consultative and collaborative. I think this is a bit too simplistic, as I’m sure we all know plenty of men who are more collaborative in their leadership style, and there are also plenty of authoritarian female leaders. On the whole, in recent decades, leadership skills have improved remarkably worldwide, perhaps in part due to increasing diversity of the workforce, giving everyone the opportunity to experience and learn from the strengths and weaknesses of different styles and approaches.
PSS: Anything particular you’ve noticed in terms of the difference between men and women at work?
SS: I see differences between different people, but find it hard to generalise about different genders.
PSS: How do you see the current professional climate for women?
SS: Better than ever. At least here in Shanghai, I believe women generally do have equal opportunities to men. I believe that the reason that you do not get as many women getting to the top of their organisations or companies is usually because they opt out when they get married or/and have children. The reasons are cultural – there is strong pressure on women to get married, have children, look after their in-laws, and subjugate their own careers to their husband’s careers. Men face a different pressure, to have a house and car before getting married, and to take the lion’s share of financial responsibility. These different cultural expectations for men and women are what affects the professional climate. However, these cultural expectations are not applied to foreigners working in China, and for this reason I think Shanghai can offer a very good professional climate for foreign women, can be equal to men, but of course depends on the leadership and culture of the organisation.
PSS: Do you believe the biological differences between men and women have an impact in the workplace?
SS: I don’t think you can ever completely escape the biological difference that women get pregnant and have children. This inevitably has an impact in the work place during the woman’s childbearing years, at least to the extent that being pregnant and breast-feeding affects ability or willingness to engage in certain types of work, and maternity leave is much longer than paternity leave. Apart from that, the impact of biological difference may be limited to certain professions that require physical strength.
PSS: What advice would you give women who want to become leaders in their career? How do you motivate yourself and stay motivated?
SS: Never stop collaborating and listening to others, but also have confidence in your own ability and your experience. If you are lucky enough (like me) to do something which you really believe in, motivation is not a problem. The problem is only having enough time in the day and enough resources to do everything you would like to do! And when you are very passionate about your work, it can also be hard to switch off, and there is the risk of burning out. You always need to make sure you get a break from your work, however absorbing it is!
Gioia Orsenigo, Editor