01/05/2011 02:30 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

China's Secret Weapon: Women

I recently spent two weeks in China teaching public classes in leadership, emotional intelligence and coaching skills. Although the participants were eager to learn, they kept telling me that their situations were different from the West. At first I agreed, assuming they were right based on my Western view of China. I still asked them to explain the differences. Surprisingly, we are more alike in our issues and desires than different.

The two major complaints of the young Chinese managers were:

  1. The work is not fulfilling
  2. Leaders don't listen to what they need to feel fulfilled

Sound familiar?

I found one striking difference. Slightly more than half of the participants were beautiful, young women. Their clothes were exquisitely feminine, as were their smiles, embraces and dancing eyes. When they handed me their business cards, they held titles of Director, Regional Vice President and Managing Partner. A few were presidents of their own businesses.

China may be lagging in development as a country, but in the growing cities, their glass ceiling if full of open windows of opportunity. Young educated women have equal chances to advance. Leadership decisions are based on competency, not gender. You just have to be smart, focused and willing to learn.

From this perspective, I heard the Chinese women explain their issues differently. Their work is not fulfilling because they reached upper management positions in their 30s. They were already asking the question, "Is this all there is?"

In China, both men and women reach their career and material goals at least 10 years earlier than in the West (if women ever do here at all), and they are seriously looking at what is missing in their hearts. Many of the women either delayed having children, or their husbands left them when they achieved financial success (business is progressing much faster than family dynamics). Reaching financial independence in their 30s, they turn to finding themselves and their meaningful purpose in the world.

In the West, women don't usually get to the question, "Is this all there is?" until they are in their 40s and 50s. And then they ask it because they are fed up with not being valued or offered the plum assignments; being micromanaged, underutilized and not trusted; and often being just plain bored. Smart, talented women in the West may not be seeking to find themselves as much as they feel the need to move on.

It's not that Western women don't question, "Who am I and what is my life's purpose?" It's that we aren't asking it from the top rungs of the corporate ladder as they are doing in China.

Many of the Chinese women turn to spiritual practices, and lately, they have found coaching. Although the profession is just being introduced in China, it is projected to grow quickly based on the needs of the young, new rich. My sense is that the women will find the fulfillment they are looking for.

What about us, the restless, unfulfilled women of the West who still struggle with gender parity in business -- will we be able to achieve our dreams and feel fulfilled?

Maybe my perspective is biased because I was expecting to see people in China complaining about how their freedoms and opportunities are being suppressed. Now I'm not sure what propaganda to believe.

At the rate we are progressing, the glass ceiling in the West will withstand years of cracking before it shatters. Are we too established to change? Are we more backwards in our thinking than we like to declare? I think we should take a lesson from the Chinese who are economically posed to pass us by.

Please pass this on to your corporate leaders. They need a little Eastern enlightenment.

Marcia Reynolds, Psy.D., president of Covisioning and author of "Wander Woman: How High-Achieving Women Find Contentment and Direction," works with companies and individuals to implement leadership practices that are both effective and fulfilling. Read more at