Performing Work: Locality, Embodied Practice and Career Mobility of Chinese Women Bankers in Hong Kong

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Wai-wan Chan


Women are emerging as significant actors in international financial industries concentrated in metropolitan cities which function as national and international business hubs. Based on 17 in-depth interviews with Chinese women bankers in Hong Kong, where one finds the highest concentration of banking institutions in the world, this paper examines the interplay between locality, gender performance and the career mobility of women bankers. The author argues that branch location is embedded within hierarchical fields of power and leads to different client groups, and ultimately, to different opportunities for upward mobility. Women bankers in Hong Kong are skilled in displaying multiple identities by using differentiated styles of language and different tongues, or languages, when interacting with different client groups in different branches. This strategy involves evaluative interpretation of perception because clients themselves make class distinctions according to different service settings. Although mid-level management teams in the banking industry have recently been rapidly feminised, this paper demonstrates that the glass ceiling is still real and continues to exert its invisible, negative impact. The upward mobility of Chinese women bankers is often blocked by informal barriers deeply embedded in the social structure and culture of both local society and international companies. These structural barriers and their resultant structured disadvantages for women are the consequence of the intersection, and sometimes the collusion, of ethnic politics, business or capitalist interests and social norms. Factors and structural forces such as race, ethnicity and gender are intertwined with and compounded to produce deep and far-reaching effects that are often beyond the control of the individual actor.

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Articles (refereed)
Author Biography

Wai-wan Chan, University of Technology Sydney

China Research Center, University of Technology Sydney