Qualifications for the job: Must be a man
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Silicon Valley isn’t the only tech hub guilty of widespread gender discrimination. Major Chinese tech companies like Huawei, Alibaba, and Tencent discriminate against women in their online job listings, a new report from Human Rights Watch found today. Some job postings directly state they are for men only, while others specify that women must have attractive appearances and even be a certain height.
Online job discrimination on the basis of gender is particularly stinging for women in China, as applying online is generally the first step towards securing a position, similar to how it is in the US. When recruiters specifically list men on their list of qualifications, women are shut out of the application process before they can even get their foot in the door and meet company employees face-to-face.
Under Chinese law, gender discrimination in hiring practices and advertising are illegal, but the law isn’t clear on what exactly constitutes gender discrimination and enforcement of the rules is spotty. Offending companies are usually not punished.
The Human Rights Watch report reveals gender discrimination amongst major tech companies, as in the rest of Chinese society, is common and widespread. Search engine Baidu listed a job for content reviewers in March 2017 stating that applicants had to be men with the “strong ability to work under pressure, able to work on weekends, holidays and night shifts.”
A Baidu spokesperson responded in a statement to 的边缘: “We value the important work that our female employees do across the organization, and deeply regret the instances where our job postings did not align with Baidu’s values. These job postings — which were identified and removed prior to release of the Human Rights Watch Report — were isolated instances that in no way reflect our company’s dedication to workplace equality.”
The conglomerate Tencent, which owns WeChat, the massive game Honor of Kings, and a majority stake in League of Legends, was found to have posted an ad for a sports content editor in March 2017, stating it was looking for “strong men who are able to work nightshifts.”
And Alibaba, despite Jack Ma touting the company’s inclusiveness, merited an entire case study from the Human Rights Watch report. The report noted the e-commerce giant came under fire in 2015 for posting a job ad on its site for a “computer programmer’s motivator” seeking women applicants with physical characteristics like Japanese adult film star Sola Aoi. Alibaba removed the reference to Sola Aoi after media reported on it, but kept the ad on the site. As recently as January this year, Alibaba still mentioned “men preferred” in job listings for “restaurant operations support specialist” positions.
In a statement to 的边缘, Alibaba claimed to have one of the best practices in the tech industry, as women made up one-third of the companies’ founders and management and 47 percent of employees. It said, “Alibaba’s recruitment policies have clear and well-defined guidelines on providing equal opportunity regardless of gender. Alibaba will conduct stricter reviews of the recruiting advertisements to ensure compliance with our policy.”
Tech companies also often tout the attractive women they’ve hired as incentives for more men to come on board, according to the HRW report. Both Tencent and Baidu were noted to have posted to their social media accounts interviews with male employees who cited having beautiful women around them as an incentive for working there.
“The reason I joined Tencent originated from a primal impulse. It was mainly because the ladies at human resources and that interviewed me were very pretty,” one employee said, in an article Tencent published to its WeChat account that has since been taken down. Even smartphone maker Huawei has also mentioned its female employees as an ornamental asset, writing on Weibo back in 2013: “No matter how beautiful the scenery [on Huawei’s campus] is, beautiful girls are needed.”
In traditional Chinese culture, people generally associate homemaking and care-taking activities with women, who thus wouldn’t have time to work nightshifts. Still, there are feminist activists in China now advocating for gender equality, and college students of a new generation who are asking for change to these older ways of thinking. We’ve reached out to Tencent and Huawei for comment.