"During my job interviews, all of the companies asked if I am planning to have a second child," 34-year-old Xiao Mu, who currently works for a media company in Shanghai, told the Global Times on Wednesday.
Many companies blatantly told her that they prefer women with two children rather than unmarried women. "We simply cannot afford two maternity leaves," Xiao Mu was told by one of the companies.
In the last two years, some Chinese companies have also required female job applicants to put information about their family members on their applications, Qian Yue, an experienced human resource manager, was quoted as saying by The Legal Daily on Saturday.
"If a female applicant already has two children, then she is safe, because it is very likely she won't have any more children," said Qian.
Qian said that HR managers are very cautious because they will be blamed if a female employee gets pregnant right after her probation period or asks for maternity leave shortly after she is employed.
A survey of 128,576 people published on March 6 by zhaopin.com, one of the biggest job recruitment sites in China, found that over 80 percent of the female respondents believe gender discrimination still exists in recruitment, China News Service reported. Many women are complaining that under the second-child policy, gender discrimination deepens in workplaces.
The second-child policy has created some new problems, including employment discrimination against women, Fu Ying, a spokesperson for the fifth session of the 12th National People's Congress, said at a press conference on March 4.
Fu said that "relevant policies and services need to be upgraded, for example, the providing of adequate maternity checkups and childcare."
Wang Pei'an, deputy head of the National Health and Family Planning Commission, said at a national academic conference on social security in Beijing on Saturday that China is considering new pro-natal incentives to make it easier for women to work and raise young children.
The incentives may include the establishment of nurseries at workplaces, extension of maternity leave and spousal paternity leave and higher financial subsidies, reported news portal caixin.com.
However, giving more incentives can also enhance the already existing prejudice against female employees, Peng Xizhe, dean of the School of Social Development and Public Policy at Shanghai's Fudan University, told the Global Times.
"I went back to work only one month after I gave birth to my first child although the maternity leave on the contract is five months, because I am afraid someone may take over my place during my absence," a department manager from an advertisement company surnamed Yuan told the Global Times, adding that simply prolonging maternity leave will not solve the problem.
Employers say hiring female employees can be prohibitively costly.
Yang Wanghai, owner of a start-up company, told The Legal Daily that it will take a woman five years if she wants to have two children (which includes the time of pregnancy, nursing and taking care of infants,) and a woman cannot fully devote herself to work during the five years, even though the company has to pay her full salary.
This is disastrous for a start-up, said Yang. Having to pay a maternity subsidy for a woman and find someone to cover her during her absence is just "too much for a company which faces life-and-death struggles everyday," said Yang.
No company dares to fire female employees because the law forbids it, said Qian, adding that they can just hire male applicants and transfer the pregnant employee to positions with tougher conditions, forcing them to resign.
Faced with this dilemma, Li Xixia, scholar from the Institute of Law of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times that the government can pay back the employer's loss caused by female employees' maternity leave by financial support or tax reduction, which may help to relieve gender discrimination in the workplace.
Moreover, experts also said that gender diversity actually benefits a company over the long run.
Hays, a recruiting company, said during a press release on March 7 that workplace diversity has many potential benefits for organizations. From a talent management perspective, working in more diverse teams can broaden employees' experience, facilitate innovation and develop a culture that is based on merit, said Hays.
"Employers also need to recognize the benefits of a gender diverse workforce, including a stronger talent pipeline, higher productivity and ultimately a more successful business. Clearly, addressing gender equality needs to be more than just a box-ticking exercise," said Christine Wright, managing director of Hays in Asia.
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