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2021 Women @ Work Report: COVID-19 heightens female brain drain risk for employers in China

Published: 4 June 2021

More than half of women in China (56%) expect to leave their current jobs within two years, according to the Deloitte 2021 Women @ Work survey. The survey by Deloitte Global, which received responses from 500 women in China and 5,000 worldwide, also found 16% of women in China are considering leaving the workforce altogether. 

"Although this is lower than the global average of 23%, the Women @ Work survey indicates that employers in China risk a "brain drain" of female staff if they don't improve the working environment for women – and do so quickly," says Deloitte China Chief Talent Officer Carol Zheng

"This risk has soared in China, as it has across the world, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Overall, women feel less satisfied, less motivated and less able to switch off at work than they did before, and their mental wellbeing and physical health have suffered."

Job dissatisfaction

According to the survey, just 49% of Chinese women now rate their job satisfaction as good or extremely good, a 27 point drop from before the pandemic. Work-life balance and mental wellbeing have deteriorated even more precipitously – as they have for women across the world – declining by 33 points and 30 points respectively.

When asked to evaluate the support their employers' have provided since the COVID-19 crisis began, only 37% of respondents rated this as sufficient, similar to the global figure of 39%. Many women are also less optimistic about their career prospects than they were before the pandemic, with 42% of respondents in China saying this is the case, although the global figure is considerably higher at 51%.     

"Employers in China can do more to support women, particularly their mental and physical wellbeing, an area in which only 17% of organizations currently provide resources," adds Carol.

"They do outperform the global average when it comes to offering gender pay audits, flexible working opportunities for carers, and more generous holiday allowances than are legally required, although these figures remain low across the board."    


The Women @ Work survey also explores gender inclusion in the workplace, and here too there is much work for Chinese companies – and companies across the world – to do. Nearly half (46%) of respondents are worried that if they are not "always on" at work, their career progression will suffer, for example by being excluded from important meetings (43%). 

Half of women have also recently experienced non-inclusive behaviour at work, a high figure, albeit below the global average of 58%. They report being addressed in an unprofessional way (9%), getting fewer career advancement opportunities than men (9%) and being belittled by senior colleagues (8%). 

"According to the survey, more than half of women do not report this non-inclusive behavior, often due to embarrassment or fear it will damage their careers," says Carol. "They should be encouraged to speak up, because companies in China tend to react appropriately to reports of non-inclusive behavior, with the survey finding 83% of women are satisfied with their employer’s response."

"To create an inclusive high-trust culture for women – and become global leaders in gender equality – companies in China need to give them the confidence to speak up without fear of reprisal, support their ability to balance work with other commitments, and give them ample opportunities to progress their careers."

Methodology: Deloitte Global surveyed 5,000 women across the world, including 500 in China, to understand the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on their personal and professional lives. The survey also sought to understand the state of gender equality in the workplace through an intersectional lens and actions employers are taking to support, retain, and empower women within their organizations. Of the 500 respondents in China, 49% are aged 38-54, 55% hold managerial roles, and 47% work at companies with annual revenues of USD1 billion-USD5 billion

Access the China data here, or visit for the global 2021 Women @ Work Report.

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