How Many Questions Does It Take to Identify Gender Disparities?

When we think about the future of worker engagement, our vision is a world where every worker is heard regardless of their age, literacy, or gender. For women in emerging markets, from apparel factories in Cambodia to electronics factories in China, their role in manufacturing continues to grow and evolve, reinforcing the critical need for female representation in workplaces around the world.

Inspired by this year’s International Women’s Day on March 8th, we were curious to learn more about the gender-related differences in our Laborlink data, and how worker engagement can be used to identify gender disparities in factories.

At first, we didn’t know what to expect. The beauty of data (or curse, depending on your perspective) is that it often produces more questions than answers. But that’s the point — ask questions of the data, then answer them. Ask more questions, and in the course of time, answer those too. Our hope is that with more time and more data, we’ll be able to provide better answers to the questions our clients, and we ourselves, have about our Laborlink data and gender disparities in the workplace.

*Statistically Significant, Harvard Business Review

All of this seemed contradictory to what we were reading, as female factory workers in recent years have thrown off the stereotypes of female passivity and begun leading protests and strikes for higher wages. How could these women, according to Laborlink data, be more satisfied with their salaries and jobs and, at the same time, be actively striking and demanding higher wages?

The missing link — a new generation of women:

The key was to look at the age of the Laborlink data, which is only available for the set of 5,700 Chinese workers mentioned above. Once we examined more closely the breakdown in responses by gender and age, we realized that this sample of data skews toward an older generation of female workers. Specifically, 77% of the women who were asked about their age are 26 years of age or older. This makes sense given that we know apparel factories tend to be composed of older workers who migrated earlier in China’s economic development.

This is an interesting finding because it confirms one of BSR’s conclusions that a marked difference exists between the older and younger generations of female factory workers. The older generation tends to value family life and a stable job, while the younger generation tends to value career opportunities, education, and training.

Given that the Chinese factories surveyed are skewed more toward older female workers, this finding makes a lot more sense. The older generation of female workers can be relatively content with their jobs, while at the same time, a fiery younger generation of women in these factories can still be striking and demanding higher wages for themselves and their coworkers.

Continue to ask more questions:

Demographic data on age proved crucial in this analysis. Without it, this data set would have led us astray and left us baffled. While we’ve always made a point of asking workers about their gender, it seems it may be just as important going forward to ask workers’ age as well.

In thinking about the best way to ask workers’ age in a short Laborlink survey, more questions again arise:

  • How can we ask about the age of factory worker populations in a standardized way?
  • What different cultural understandings of age exist in different countries or parts of the world? How does that affect the way they respond about their age?

As mentioned earlier, asking questions of the data is a great way to get answers to some questions, but more often than not, it sparks more uncertainty. For our team, these unanswered questions motivate us to connect with more workers, more frequently, to better understand the true working conditions for everyone on the factory floor.

For more worker-centric data insights on job satisfaction, download the 2016 Laborlink China Collaborative Report. If you’re interested in participating in the 2017 program — send a message to

Download: Laborlink China Collaborative 2016 Report

*Note: Two Laborlink data sets are used for this analysis in China. The first is comprised of over 35,000 survey responses collected from Chinese factory workers, asking a set of 13 key questions about their job satisfaction and potential intent to leave their factories. The second is a related, but smaller data set of nearly 5,700 Chinese apparel workers that asks additional questions about age, salary satisfaction, and promotion opportunities. Given that factory workers self-select into taking our Laborlink survey, Good World Solutions follows best practices to account for and minimize the effect of a selection bias upon the data.

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