Former Chinese leader Mao Zedong (毛澤東) said: “Women hold up half the sky,” but academics say the world’s most populous nation is still far from gender equality, even in the modern and fast-growing technology sector.
Facebook Inc chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg’s 2013 book Lean In — which talks about women’s career struggles — has been translated and published in China, but failed to spark the same heated debate as in the US.
“In mainstream [Chinese] society, there is objectification of women and gender inequality,” the Zhejiang Academy of Social Sciences’ Wang Ping (王彬) said.
“It might be more serious in technology companies,” he said, citing more men working in technical fields.
NASDAQ-listed online marketplace JD.com Inc (京東) triggered online outrage last month when it promoted International Nurses Day with images of health workers in lingerie-like uniforms.
“I will never buy things from JD again. What disgusting behavior!” one woman wrote.
The firm quickly removed the advertisement and apologized.
Chinese authorities detained five feminist activists for more than a month earlier this year after they planned to hand out leaflets about sexual harassment on public transport.
China has seen no court case like that of Ellen Pao (鮑康如), whose unsuccessful gender discrimination action against her former venture capital employer became a proxy trial of sex bias in Silicon Valley, California.
Instead, Chinese technology companies have a history of inviting Japanese adult film stars to events. Although authorities ban online content they consider pornographic, illegal downloads have given some adult film actresses massive followings in the nation.
Internet technology company NetEase.com Inc (網易) invited Anri Okita to its offices in 2013, where she ate lunch and took photographs with male staff. Shanghai-based gaming company Dream Network Technology Co (駿夢) invited Yui Hatano to its annual company party last year, while Internet security company Qihoo 360 Technology Co (奇虎360) hosted Rola Takizawa.
An advertisement for computer programmers on Alibaba’s official recruitment Web site mentioned Japanese porn star Sola Aoi — who has nearly 16 million followers on her Chinese microblog.
“You can be like ‘Teacher Aoi,’ whose virtue and skills comprise a doubly strong and pervasive fragrance, the world in her breast,” the advertisement read.
“You can be like Song Hye Kyo, from a respectable family, a heavenly beauty, who makes fish sink and birds alight, who obscures the moon and makes flowers blush,” it said, referring to a mainstream South Korean actress.
Alibaba removed the advertisement following criticism.
It was “intended to be an attempt at humorous marketing to recruit IT talent,” the company said in a statement. “We apologize to anyone offended.”
“Alibaba is committed to providing equal opportunity and fair treatment to all employees on the basis of merit, without discrimination,” it added.
However, an online poster using the name Joey Ultraman said: “If Alibaba dared post this stupid little ad in America ... the gender discrimination lawsuits would pursue it to the end of the earth.”
In fact, the advertisement contrasted with Alibaba’s place among the most open and active firms in both hiring women and putting them in positions of leadership.
Alibaba had about 35,000 employees by the end of March, with females accounting for more than 40 percent of its employees and nearly 35 percent of management, according to the company.
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