Workplace Gender Inequality in China

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It is a worldwide widespread perception that we are approaching to equality in every sense. However, are we really aware to which extent is this true? The aim of this paper is to analyze the still existing gender inequalities in the workplace and more specifically, the challenges Chinese women continue to face in the labor market of the second largest economy in the world.

Ideally, in order to achieve gender equality in the workplace, companies should provide the same outcomes and privileges to both men and women. This would include equal pay for the jobs, no barriers for women to participate in the workplace, no discrimination against women with respect to their family caregiving responsibilities and equivalent access to leadership positions and promotions.

One of the basic rights women have is not to be discriminated against in the workforce and in the workplace. This right is enshrined in international law. Unfortunately, reality does not always comply with the law and women continue to be discriminated against in many ways, both in the workforce and in the workplace.

Gender Discrimination and Its Implications

Gender inequality is the phenomenon that arises when a person receives unequal treatment based on its gender. It is something which has emerged out of skewed perceptions and socially built roles for each gender.

This is something which has happened to women in the workplace for a long time now, and still persists despite the progress women’s rights movements have made. It must also be mentioned that while gender inequality is something that mainly women have suffer, there are some men who have had to deal with this issue too.

In the present day and age, it appears to be incredible that men earn more than women over a wide range of different professions for performing the same job. The fact that this pattern exists demonstrates that there are still miles to go before gender inequality is completely eliminated from today’s working environment.

It is common for most women to encounter some form of gender bias in the workplace nowadays. The problem remains despite the fordward steps women have made towards greater equality in the last decades. Numerous organizations likewise make efforts to encourage fairness, yet none of that changes the fact that women still occupy lower paying positions and earn less than their male counterparts.

Women keep on pushing through gender barriers and more and more of them are choosing careers in traditionally male dominated fields such as technology and engineering. But still, women get recognized and rewarded less than men. This gender bias is not only unfair but also detrimental to overall corporate performance of companies as well.

Why does this happen? Why is gender inequality in the workplace a problem that many women have to deal with? The main reason for the existence of gender bias is the perpetuity of the gender roles imposed by the society.

In order to advance in most businesses or careers, an employee has to demonstrate its commitment and that will indicate how ambitious it is. In some jobs, travelling is necessary and employees may even have to move to different locations either in the country or internationally.

Since women are still the primary caregivers in most families, some of these things can be problematic. In this case, there would be a limit on how much time some women can put in at work if they have families which they need to take care of. Moreover, relocating might be a problem for some women due to their husband’s work. The amount of time women can dedicate to their job may not be considered enough for them to get the same salary or benefits as men.

It is necessary to highlight that discrimination against women in the workplace is no longer the norm, but there still exist what we call ‘second generation biases’ with respect to gender roles. First generation biases are those which imply intentional discrimination. However, second generation biases are invisible barriers to women that arise from cultural beliefs about gender, as well as workplace structures, practices, and patterns of interactions that favor men.

Unequal pay is the top factor impacting in workplaces today, many female employees do not belive they are being paid fairly compared to their male counterparts. Overcoming this problem is necessary for retaining women in the workplace, because many female workers would leave a job if they knew a male counterpart was being paid more. Closing the pay gap is critical to advance towards gender equality in the work environment and for this goal to be achieved companies have to make sure that women are paid fairly.

Gender Inequality in the Chinese Workplace

According to the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China, all citizens are equal and enjoy the same rights, regardless of gender, beliefs, or ethnicity. However, this legal equality does not always extend to the workplace or everyday life, and discrimination in China exists.

Chinese society is characterized by widening inequality. China has one of the greatest economic divides among its inhabitans. China’s Gini coefficient is 0.53, compared to 0.45 in the US and 0.34 in India. This coefficient is often used as a measure of economic inequality, measuring income distribution among a population. The coefficient ranges from 0 to 1, with 0 representing perfect equality and 1 representing perfect inequality. In a society that just two decades ago was among the most equal, these new social divisions generate tensions and conflict.

China ranks the 87th among 142 countries studied in measures of gender gaps in economic, educational and political participation, so its efforts toward parity surpasses many countries in the world. However, the Chinese Communist Party has historically prioritized men’s over women’s interests.

Cultural values tend to keep women from becoming too successful in the workplace. The state-led Women’s Federation launched a campaign ticking biological and social clocks of successful professional women, warning that they would be “leftovers” if they didn’t marry and procreate by their mid-20s. A state-invented discourse emphasizes as mothers’ role ensuring the future success of their children. This aims to encourage women to prioritize the housework over their professional career, while ignoring the role of men in the household.

The wage gap between men and women has grown steadily, urban women now earn 69% of male wages, mainly due to occupational sex segregation. Women are channeled into low-wage, low-status jobs, in which they are required to use the femininity that justifies their placement in these positions.

Retirement age is another source of inequality as women are legally required to retire between the age of 50 and 55, whereas men’s retirement age is 60, this fact gives them between 5 and 10 more years of wage-earning.

Chinese women face gender discrimination in employment opportunities and career development too, according to findings of the 2017 Report on the Current Situation of Chinese Women in the Workplace. The aim of this survey conducted on 128,500 women in the workplace, was to analyze the situation and environment of women to seek employment opportunities, promotions and career goals.

The findings were that better educated women are more likely to be discriminated, about 43% of women with graduate degrees feel discrimination, compared to 18% of men with the same level of education.

Discrimination against women is huge when talking about promotions. In career development, 25% of women expereince discrimination in promotions, compared with 18% of men. It also takes longer time for women to get promoted. About 59% of men are promoted for the first time within two years of employment, compared to 49% of women. Additionaly, 44% of women never are promoted, compared with 31% of men.

Whereas women attribute lack of promotions to personal reasons, men tend to blame external factors, such as not being appreciated by their supervisors, or losing a chance by transferring to a new position. About 40% women believe that they lack the competence or experience required for being promoted, compared with 32% of men.

As in the employment process, the better educated, the more likely were women to be discriminated against in promotions. About 35% of women with graduate degrees are discriminated in promotions. Therefore, it is not surprising that leadership positions are dominated by men in China. About 72% of the interviewed has men as supervisors, while only 28% has women supervisors.

When it comes to seek employment, women also face gender discrimination. In the process of seeking employment, 22% of women experience discrimination, compared with 14% of men. Gender discrimination experienced by women when looking for employment varies with age, marital status and educational background. Women aged from 25 to 34 are the most discriminated. When applying for a job, married women without children are also more likely to be discriminated because employers think that they will have children after being hired.

Women are more conservative in seeking job opportunities too. Women usually apply for positions for which they strongly match the job requirements, while men apply even if they do not fulfill at all certain job requirements.

For developing their careers, women try to improve personal value and take more challenging work, while men give priority to extending their relations and accumulating resources for being promoted to be a leader or manager.

The Human Rights Watch looked at over 36,000 job advertisements posted online between 2013 and 2018 on Chinese company websites and social media. After analyzing the offered jobs they discovered that many of the ads clearly stated a preference for male applicants, while others required women to have certain physical attributes that were irrelevant to the skills required for the position. Moreover, others advertised the attractiveness of their female employees to recruit male applicants, even one company posted photos of their young female employees.

Hiring discrimination is one reason why the gender gap is increasing in China, leading to a drop in female labor force participation and an increasing gender pay gap. As a result, China’s gender parity ranking has fallen from the 63rd position to the 100th since 2006.

According to an article of the New York Times, gender bias and discrimination in the Chinese workplace have a prevalence in the tech industry. For women working in male-dominated industries, the difference in the treatment of women and men is even larger. Biases and discrimination are reducing women’s access to leadership opportunities. There is the need to highlight the challenges that women in engineering face, including biases in hiring, promotion, and pay decisions. The banking and finance industry in particular are working hard to ensure a women-friendly work environment.

Actions such as the “TimesUp” movement, which is focused on addressing sexual assault, harassment, and inequality in the workplace, are battling the cultural norms to make those activities unacceptable. Ending with the unfair treatment to women will help to close the gender gaps.

The Chinese government requires companies to give women 14 weeks of paid maternity leave, and this is one of the strongest reasons for companies to discriminate against women, as they try to avoid providing this benefit.

In 2009, the Centre for Women’s Law and Legal Services at Peking University surveyed 3,000 women and the findings were that one in four women were denied a job due to their sex. Furthermore, according to the testimony of 25 of the women surveyed, they were forced to sign labour contracts containing clauses forbidding them to get married or pregnant during a specified period of time. More than the 20% interviewed also stated that employers cut salaries to women who become pregnant, and the 11% told that they were fired from their jobs for having a baby.

Additionaly, women have also to compete amongst themselves. In China, most of the applicants attach a photograph to their CVs because there are jobs requiring women a certain level of attractiveness. It is possible to find job ads with detailed appearance and height requirements for women.

Women professionals on the mainland face more sex discrimination now than they did 20 years ago, it is very surprising the fact that there is much more gender discrimination in hiring in China now than a generation ago, when the trend in most of the countries in the world has been to reduce gender discrimination gradually.

This could be attributed to structural changes and market reforms. In the early 1990s, China still had a planned economy where jobs were assigned to women and men by the Communist Party and there was gender equality in the workplace. But by the mid-1990s, as market reforms were taken, there were massive layoffs, 43 million of people lost their jobs and women were often the first to be fired and the last to be rehired.

Nevertheless, the Chinese Communist Party has also taken some measures towards equality between women and men. In the 1950s women entered in mass into the labor force and female literacy improved very much. This was largely because the one-child policy led to greater family investment in daughters, when there were no sons with whom to compete.

In Asia, women working in China are most likely to share an equal footing with men, compared to Singapore, Hong Kong, India, Japan and Malasya, according to a gender diversity study by the non-profit organization Community Business.

In terms of female representation in the workforce, participation rate rose across the mainland. The number of women holding senior positions jumped from 20% to 35% in 2011. According to the World Economic Forum report China improved in gender equality and has the second highest percentage of firms with female participation in ownership across Asia.

For instance, China is the only one of these six markets where maternity benefits are provided by both the government and employers. China is also the first among the six countries to roll out statutory paid paternity leave. Chinese working mothers are entitled to 98 days of maternity leave, compared with 80 days in Singapore, 70 days in Japan, 60 days in Malaysia and India, and 50 days in Hong Kong.

China has no specific laws that forbid employment discrimination. But there are provisions in other laws that address the problem. The Employment Promotion Law of the People’s Republic of China, and the Labor Law of the People’s Republic of China, include provisions that ensure basic principles of employment equality. Other laws, including the Law on the Protection of Women’s Rights and Interests, contain provisions that protect women.

The Employment Promotion Law of the People’s Republic of China has provisions concerning employment equlity. Workers shall be entitled by law to enjoy the right to equal employment and to seek their own employment. No worker seeking employment shall suffer discrimination on the grounds of ethnicity, race, gender or religious belief. In addition, the state shall safeguard the equality of women with men in their enjoyment of labor rights.

With the exception of certain types of work or positions designated by the state as unsuitable for women, no employment unit, when recruiting new employees, shall refuse to recruit women by reason of gender. Moreover, no employer, when recruiting a female employee, shall include a clause in the employment contract imposing marriage or childbirth restrictions on the employee.


Why do we need to reach equality in the workplace? For people that are not aware about the persintence of gender inequality in the workplace, it might be difficult to understand why having equal rights in the workplace is essential.

Having gender equality is not just important for women. Workplace gender equality is also directly related to the overall economic performance of corporations and in general, the performance of the whole country. Studies show that where there is greater workplace equality there is better national economic growth, increased national productivity, stronger reputations for companies built upon fairness and equal rights, increased inflow of highly qualified candidates for jobs and better overall organizational performance in corporations.

Gender discrimination in employment still widely exists in China’s workplace in different ways that are hidden. The discrimination has changed from overt to recessive, whilst the situation might be even worse because hidden prejudice and discrimination against women is harder to avoid and punish.

Women believe that their biggest challenges in the workplace are an unclear career path and lack of professional guidance. Even though the government has made efforts to drive equality in the workplace, women still experience severe gender discrimination in both their employment opportunities and career development.

Altough laws exist in China that prohibit gender discrimination in the workplace, stonger accountability and enforcement are needed. This gender discrimination still prevents the gender gap from closing in a country where men far outnumber women.

Cite this paper

Workplace Gender Inequality in China. (2021, Mar 22). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/workplace-gender-inequality-in-china/

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