I spent much of the summer of 2015 covering the absolute unraveling of Uber China, a multibillion-dollar effort that failed spectacularly. When Uber ultimately admitted defeat in 2016, Shonda Rhimes couldn’t have scripted the narrative better.
Uber had devastated competitors in each market, and its Chinese competitor Didi Chuxing turned Uber’s game on itself. Didi was the only ride-sharing company in the world whose resources rivaled Uber’s, backed by two of the largest Chinese internet companies and several of the largest hedge funds in the world. And while there was never any evidence of the Chinese government making life any worse for the American company in the market, Didi obviously had the home-field advantage when it came to working politics in China, if it came down to that.
And China was already the largest ride-sharing market in the world by rides. In January 2016, Didi announced it had completed 1.4 billion rides in 2015, some 40 percent more than the 1 billion rides it took Uber eight years to rack up. Uber was not the largest ride-sharing company in the world by a large and widening margin, despite its bravado and its valuation.
And the face of Didi in the fight was its president and COO, Jean Liu. A woman. A mother.
As I dusted off more and more of my China contacts in reporting this story, I was struck by how many of the C-level officers running Chinese companies were women. And how many of them were CEO, COO, CFO, or even CTO. They weren’t merely the token senior woman on the team running HR or marketing. It was far more pronounced than the “Get me a Sheryl!” trend in Silicon Valley, which was still limited to a dozen or so companies.
Silicon Valley Bank has a huge practice in China, and they were intrigued by anecdotal evidence of a major gender disconnect between the two tech hubs. They did a study of 900 or so clients across the United States, the United Kingdom, and China, examining how women fared at the senior levels. The results were hard to believe for Americans who hadn’t done business in the tech world in China, and obvious to those who have.