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Ma hails women's role in business, calling them 'backbone of his empire'

By He Wei in Shanghai | China Daily | Updated: 2017-07-11 08:07

Women not only fuel the exponential growth of Alibaba Group Holding's online emporium, they also form the backbone of the business empire that is eyeing to serve 2 billion customers and create 100 million job opportunities in two decades.

According to billionaire founder Jack Ma, around half of the sellers on its gigantic Tmall and Taobao marketplaces are women, and a greater proportion of storefronts with higher positive user ratings have female owners.

These are clear manifestations that the internet has helped level the playing field and enabled women to create and pursue opportunities to flourish in their own right, Ma told the 2017 Global Conference on Women and Entrepreneurship in Hangzhou on Monday.

"Women are the secret of the company's success and make us distinct. It is women who have encouraged me to undergo the tough times in the past 18 years since the founding of Alibaba," he said.

He said rational thinking, a trait often boasted by men, can be easily challenged and replaced in the age of artificial intelligence, but women's attention to detail and experience can outperform robotics and machine learning.

The star-studded meeting featured talks by prominent female figures from bridal wear designer Vera Wang and Chinese film star Sun Li, and was aimed at seeking ways to encourage women to pursue their professional and personal ambitions.

Alibaba also used the event to promote female entrepreneurship and showcase its own gender diversity. In particular, more than one-third of its founders were women, with a similar percentage in senior management roles.

Women are also well-represented within Alibaba, with the ratio of female employees once nearing 50 percent.

"Women can drive economic growth if they are able to realize their rights ... especially in partnership with business, the government and the civil society in the global value chain," said Lakshmi Puri, assistant secretary-general of the United Nations and deputy executive director of UN Women.

Women entrepreneurship is critical in ending poverty and promoting shared prosperity, said Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank.

"In China, 31 percent of companies are owned by women entrepreneurs, putting it on par with New Zealand, Singapore and the United States," said Kim, adding that much of the progress is only possible thanks to the education, motivation and the financial inclusion facilitated by the likes of Alibaba.

Under an Alibaba-backed incubation program, Huang Yinhua, who has been disabled since she was a teenager, has helped 2,500 women in poor physical or financial conditions start their own businesses, by providing microloans or offering job opportunities across the e-commerce chain, such as customer service, quality inspection and logistics.

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