Equality in the workplace for women in China has made solid ground in recent years, but unethical and illegal employment practices continue to emerge, with pregnant women often the target.
- Local authorities say discriminatory workplace policies could result in substantial fines
- Women may be reluctant to fall pregnant to protect their jobs
- Employment levels among women rising faster than men
(Guangzhou, May 21, 2022) Twenty-two-year-old Xiao Xiao, who chose to speak under a pseudonym, discovered she had fallen pregnant in early March, but the excitement she shared with her partner did not last long.
In compliance with her company’s policy, Xiao notified her employer, a Guangdong-based enterprise, that she had fallen pregnant immediately.
On the very same day, she received a notice of “salary structure adjustment” from the company’s Human Resources department.
According to the notice, Xiao’s salary had been cut to 1,900 yuan per month, representing more than a 50% decrease. Xiao was also notified that she had been demoted from her secretarial position.
The following day, Xiao discovered that she had also been removed from most of her work-related WeChat groups.
“I went to work, and I had been removed from many work chat groups. My computer’s password had also been changed. Without these, I just couldn’t work,” says Xiao.
According to Xiao, the company has a track record of using untoward tactics to encourage pregnant employees to resign, as opposed to firing them to avoid breaking workers’ discrimination laws, though past employees have been reluctant to speak out for fears that doing so could affect their ability to return to the workforce down the line.
The local government has emphasized that discrimination against pregnant employees is unacceptable, and the issue has renewed focus as China’s birth rate has declined significantly since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
Some experts worry that young women are choosing not to fall pregnant out of fears that they may lose their job and are instead more likely to wait until they are in a more financially stable position before starting a family.
Yun Li, 25, who also spoke using a pseudonym out of privacy concerns, says she was also nearly forced out of her job after falling pregnant.
“The Human Resources department of my previous employer tried to make life difficult for me,” says Yun.
“One of the female Human Resources managers spoke to me quietly and suggested I complain to the local government,” Yun adds.
Yun contacted local authorities, who intervened and warned Yun’s company that discriminatory workplace practices could result in substantive fines.
Yun continued to work at her company without incident after that, though she declined to accept maternity leave when the time came and instead resigned two months before she was expecting to give birth.
A year after becoming a mother, Yun took on a new role at a company that advertised a family-friendly working environment, including allowing new mothers to take breastfeeding breaks each day, a policy that made it possible for her to travel between home and work.
According to official statistics from the Guangdong provincial bureau of statistics, in 2020, women accounted for 42% of the province’s working population.
In the same year, the employment rate overall increased by 1%, while the employment rate among women increased by 2.3%, indicating the workplace is becoming more attractive to women.
However, statistics are not kept regarding discrimination against working pregnant women.
Yang Manyu, a provincial-based employee rights legal expert, believes more needs to be done.
“We need to identify why (working) women are reluctant to fall pregnant and deal with unfair, discriminatory employment practices,” says Yang.
Though big data analysis is increasingly being used in China to identify societal issues and ways of solving them, Xiao says she simply hopes “relevant departments can do something now.”