China's employers engage in blatant gender discrimination, often advertising jobs for "men only," while others hire women with physical attributes aimed at appealing to their male coworkers, according to a new study published this week by Human Rights Watch.
An analysis by HRW of more than 36,000 job postings over the past five years in China found rampant gender discrimination in employment in both the state and private sectors.
"Four decades of rapid economic growth in China have created unprecedented economic opportunities for women, but gender discrimination in employment remains widespread," the report, titled "Only Men Need Apply: Gender Discrimination in Job Advertisements in China," says.
In 2018 civil service job postings, 19 percent specified "men only," "men preferred" or "suitable for men," while only a single listing was found specifying a preference for a woman.
"These job ads reflect traditional and deeply discriminatory views: that women are less physically, intellectually, and psychologically capable than men; that women are their families' primary sources of child care and thus unable to be fully committed to their jobs or will eventually leave full-time paid employment to have a family; and that accommodating maternity leave is unacceptably inconvenient or costly for the company or agency," the report says.
In one online job recruitment video for male technicians posted by Alibaba, China's largest internet company, the narrator says chosen candidates will work with a staff of beautiful women.
The narrator promises there are "goddesses" working at Alibaba who are "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 coworkers. Do you want to be theirs?" the narrator says.
That is followed by shots of female employees of the company saying how much they love to work with tech guys. "The most important thing is that he treats me well and that he's handsome" a young, female Alibaba employee manages to explain while pole dancing.
Alibaba's recruitment social media site also posted a series of photos of several female employees, describing them as "late night benefits" of working for the company.
Other Chinese technology companies, such as Tencent and Baidu have also put out recruiting ads touting their female employees.
"I mean, as a woman, of course, I felt quite disgusted," says Maya Wang, Human Rights Watch's China senior researcher for Asia says.
"I think it tells you that the problem is fairly common and widespread and quite accepted as a practice that they didn't even think twice or didn't think it would create any pushback or uproar," she says.
Last year, Tencent apologized for footage of an annual company outing showing female staff kneeling, appearing to use their mouths to open water bottles tucked between the legs of their male coworkers.
Tencent and Baidu have both apologized in the wake of this latest report, and Alibaba defended itself, saying that nearly half its employees are women and that women occupy a third of its management positions.
However, Wang says until China's government starts cracking down on gender discrimination – something she says it does not do – this type of discrimination will continue.
According to the reports, "Some women in recent years have brought successful court challenges to gender discrimination in job ads, but the compensation the companies were ordered to pay was low: in three separate court cases, the victims were each awarded 2,000 yuan (US$300). For many firms, such modest fines are unlikely to serve as a deterrent."