Beijing Introduces New Rules: Employers Can No Longer Ask Female Candidates about Marital or Childbearing Status

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Chinese employers are reportedly no longer allowed to ask female job candidates if they are married or have children. But will this help the position of Chinese women on the job market?

Nine government departments in Beijing have jointly released a document stating that employers are no longer allowed to ask female job candidates about their marital or childbearing status.

Although the issue made headlines in China on June 27, a document issued by the Chinese Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security in February of this year already contained the stipulations. The notice shared by state media today is dated May 20, 2019.

The document is titled “Notice on Further Strengthening Recruitment Management to Promote Women’s Employment” (“关于进一步加强招聘活动管理促进妇女就业工作的通知”) (link), and states that no requirements for gender should be included in any recruitment plans or interviews.

Xinhua News reports that the document prohibits asking about the marital or fertility status of female candidates during interviews, and also eliminates pregnancy testing from pre-employment health examination lists.

The recent move is part of a wider effort led by China’s Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security to ban discrimination against women in the workforce.

Companies violating these rules will reportedly be fined 10,000 yuan ($1452) or more if they refuse to correct their practices.

At time of writing, the topic “Recruiters Cannot Ask about Women’s Marital & Childbearing Status” (#招聘不得询问妇女婚育情况#) received over 340 million views on social media platform Weibo.

 

Gender discrimination on China’s job market

 

Gender discrimination in the job-search process has been a hot topic in China for years. A 2015 study found that 87% of female college grads say there is gender discrimination for female job candidates.

The position of women in China’s job market is a complicated one.

On the one hand, education levels for women have greatly improved among Chinese women over recent decades, bringing greater gender equality – not just within the family, but within the society at large.

China boasts one of the higher levels of female labor force participation in the world. In 2018, the female labor force participate rate was 61%.

But at the same time, Chinese women face huge disadvantages in their working lives. Preferences for male candidates are ubiquitous in job advertisements, or may state that women who are married with children are preferred candidates. On average, women also still earn 36% less than men for doing similar work.

Since the end of the One Child Policy, social pressure to have a second child and calls for extended maternity leaves for women are potentially harming the (economic) position of women in China in the long run.

With a 98-day paid maternity leave and paid leave for prenatal checkups, Chinese laws on maternity leave are quite generous. But because this significantly increases the financial costs for (private) companies, many employers would rather hire a man than a woman who has not had children yet.

With the introduction of the “two-child-policy”, a woman could take a total paid leave of almost 200 days if she had two children. Calls to extend maternity leave to three years caused controversy on Weibo in 2014, when women said that nobody would hire a woman that could potentially be gone for six years.

In 2018, news came out that one school in Zhengzhou, Henan, had a policy of giving ‘time slots’ to female teachers to get pregnant with their (second) child. When one female teacher fell pregnant before her ‘turn’ was up, she was dismissed.

Earlier this year, the case of a woman in Dalian who was let go by the company for falling pregnant within her trial period also ignited discussions online.

When women who are already employed have a baby, they also have a greater chance of being demoted or earning less. A survey by job recruitment site Zhaopin.com found that 33 percent of women had their pay cut after giving birth and 36 percent were demoted (NPR).

When it was announced in 2016 that Anhui province would introduce a paid ‘menstrual leave’ for working women on their period, many female netizens protested the policy, saying that granting women special days off would only “make it even harder for women to be hired.”

 

Will this really help?

 

As for the latest announced regulations – many netizens are not too optimistic that they will actually change the position of women on the job market.

“Lazy politics, do they think that a few laws will solve the basic problem? And that companies will listen?”

“How will you implement these regulations?”, others wonder.

“Even if they’re not allowed to ask, they have others way to find out your status,” another person writes.

One Weibo commenter remarks: “I asked my friend who works in human resources if they really ask these questions. He answered: ‘Of course we don’t, that would be very unprofessional.’ ‘But if you filter out the resumes do you take gender into account?’ He answered: ‘Ha ha ha! Of course we do!'”

Some responses on Weibo are even more pessimistic, saying: “This will just make companies deny women of a certain age altogether. If you really want to change things you should give both men and women maternity leave.”

“To be honest,” one commenter named Absolom writes: “The costs that come with women’s childbearing should either be a responsibility taken up by the family (if you think that childbearing is a private affair), or by the state (if you think heightening childbearing rates is of importance to society). The ones least responsible for this are companies. If you put all responsibility on companies, I’m afraid that it’s still the women who suffer in the end. If they’re not allowed to ask, these companies simply won’t hire women of childbearing age at all.”

The majority of comments on Weibo also convey the idea that the policy might lead to companies not hiring women at all anymore; making things worse for them instead of improving their position on the job market.

But not all responses are negative. “I do support this policy,” one person comments: “When I just graduated and was looking for a job, one employer once expressed his concern over my single status, [saying] they were afraid I’d get married. Recently I was also looking for work, and one person straightforwardly asked me if I was okay with quitting my job if I’d get pregnant.”

Even so, the supportive comments are difficult to find among the thousands of reactions. “Are you 30 and single?” one Weibo user writes: “You might as not go to the job interview at all anymore.”

By Manya Koetse, with contributions from Miranda Barnes

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