Chinese man and woman in suits

Chinese tech heavyweights under fire for sexist job ads

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A report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) has found that gender discrimination is common in the Chinese tech sector and may be contributing to a widening gender pay gap in the country.

The report, Only Men Need Apply, analysed 36,000 job advertisements issued by public bodies in China as well as private companies since 2013, including tech giants Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent and Huawei.

Startlingly, HRW discovered that nearly one in five job advertisements for China’s civil service this year either requested only men or suggested a preference for male applicants. 55 per cent of jobs advertised at the Ministry of Public Security specified ‘men only’. Just one job advertisement expressed a preference for female applicants.

Meanwhile, Chinese tech giants like Alibaba were also found to be posting job applications intended to attract mostly male applicants, such as by promising that employees would be working next to ‘beautiful girls’. The study found a “troubling pattern of gender discrimination” at Alibaba, China’s largest e-commerce company, with many advertisements explicitly stating a preference for male applicants or making reference to the physical attractiveness of female employees - a practice also found at Baidu, which runs China’s largest search engine.

An Alibaba recruitment notice posted in 2013, for instance, stated that female employees are “the goddesses in Alibaba employee’s heart – smart and competent at work and charming and alluring in life. They are independent but not proud, sensitive but not melodramatic. They want to be your co-workers. Do you want to be theirs?”

Even in the instances in which women were encouraged to apply for roles, the tech companies were found to employ discriminatory language. Huawei – the world’s largest telecommunications equipment manufacturer – made reference to needing ‘beautiful girls’ on site, while other companies specified the ideal appearance (including skin tone and condition), height and temperament of female applicants for jobs in which these characteristics are irrelevant.

In 2017, just 63 per cent of Chinese women of working age were in employment, a fall from 65.5 per cent in 2007, while the gender pay gap in urban areas has increased. According to HRW, discrimination in hiring practices is a major reason for the gradual widening of this gap. While China has anti-discrimination laws, the report says, the country does not have a legal framework capable of putting an end to discriminatory job advertisements.

“The laws lack a clear definition of what constitutes gender discrimination and provide few effective enforcement mechanisms,” the report said. “As a result, the level of enforcement is low and Chinese authorities rarely proactively investigate companies that repeatedly violate relevant laws.”

HRW has called for the Chinese government to implement new laws to prevent discrimination in the workplace and for private companies to adopt policies prohibiting discriminatory job advertisements.

Chinese tech companies are not alone in facing accusations of sexism; over the past year, there have been extensive reports of discrimination and harassment directed at women based at Silicon Valley tech companies, including Google, Uber and Tesla.

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