Westerners are likely aware that pay discrepancies are just one of the many gender issues that are currently in the spotlight. In Australia, for example, women take home on average A$26,000 less than men per year. As Hollywood big-leagues put producers in the hot seat for paying women less than their male counterparts, and each year more and more women make a stand for equal pay, how does all this fair here in China? Herein, see if and where our Eastern sisters face gender inequality in the workplace.
It is extraordinary, really. China pulled herself through revolution after revolution, and war after war, to become a manufacturing powerhouse that has somehow flourished through it all. And while there’s no doubting the country’s step onto the world stage has been nothing short of an economic miracle, not everyone can agree that widespread job opportunities have indeed manifested modernistic thought, especially with regards to gender equality. Has China’s new economy created a potential glass ceiling?
Under Mao, women were made to work for equal pay alongside men. It is one of the many arguments for communism; equality across the gender plane. Writer for the New York Times, Helen Gao, recalls her grandmother’s feelings about women during the Mao era, “The Communists did many terrible things… but they made women’s lives much better”. After the cultural revolution, when leadership changed, women’s roles in the workplace changed too; they became more complicated. For the first time since the revolution, women have had to compete with their male counterparts for employment and often face harsh discrimination.
Western news claims that while China saw a time of progress from 2006-2016 in terms of gender equality in the workplace, 2017 represented a regression. Furthermore, Human Rights Watch claims that China has just had the worst year its seen in a decade with regards to gender parity. One bad year out of ten doesn’t sound that disheartening, until you pair that fact with the 2017 Global Gender Gap Report, which ranks China 100 out of 144 nations for equal treatment of women across four categories, one of which includes work culture.
“Sometimes I’ve felt patronised by my boss when he told me I shouldn’t do certain things because I’m a woman…like lifting boxes…when, frankly, my gender doesn’t mean I am any less capable than my male counterparts”, says Joyce, who works in the textile industry. This mindset, that women are somehow less capable than men in the workplace, plays a role in statistics that hurts China’s case for gender equality. For instance, only 16.8 percent of women in the Chinese workforce are in managerial positions, according to Business Insider.
Of course, media from within the mainland says just the opposite. They claim that China has been a leader in gender equality, as a part of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals, the same way its made large, leading steps in the fight against climate change. A Chinese woman’s monthly income is lower than a Chinese man’s by a reported 22 percent, an improvement from the 30 percent statistic reported the previous year by China Daily. Most of the women The Nanjinger interviewed seemed to agree that, at least in their offices and industries, China is not a bad place to be a working female.
Coco, a local English teacher, fully believes her male coworkers make the same base salary as she. Ultimately, however, there is no easy way to determine what people in China actually earn, given the many bonuses companies hand out and a history of under-the-table salary add-ons. Amy Yu, also a teacher in Nanjing, says that in her household she’s the one that makes all money-related decisions. “I’m better with mathematics. In our house, my decisions on what we spend our money on for our family gives me power and makes me feel more equal to my husband”.
Contradictory reports in work culture for women is not the only item up for debate. A controversial theory exists that last year’s setback in gender equality for China, could have been caused by none other than the repeal of the one-child policy. The argument is that girls born during the one-child policy period did not have to fight with siblings, particularly brothers, for family resources or attention. Their single child status almost insured their university attendance.
In this way, women began to quietly crack away at workplace disparities by becoming qualified for roles that required secondary degrees. The Harvard Review reported that the one-child policy coincided with an increase in female student enrolment on Chinese campuses. Not only were women more likely to attend university under the one-child policy, but this same Harvard study suggested they performed better.
Perhaps women felt more pressure to do well in university exams to make up for their family’s disappointment in them not being male? Or, perhaps, with no divide in attention or money, these women were given every opportunity to excel in their studies by way of extra tutoring, private lessons and full parental encouragement.
Sociologists predicted the end of the one-child legislature would result in a baby boom, but they may have gotten it all wrong. Every Chinese woman The Nanjinger spoke with seemed to agree that they felt pressure to have a child and a house; two very costly life stages. The cost of raising a child in China is apparently enough of a reason to only have one; no government regulation required. “In China, you are supposed to give your child everything. No one wants to seem like they can’t afford the best things for their baby. But everything in China costs a lot of money and living in Nanjing is getting more expensive. If everyone earned the same money, it would be easier”, Yu says.
Whether China is a leader or a lagger when it comes to an even-keeled workplace is difficult to say. While The Nanjinger was denied an interview on the subject by a local company, Roseann Lake, author of “Leftover in China”, believes that what’s lacking globally is empathy for working women. A change in attitude about women in managerial roles, a more forgiving timeline for marriage and motherhood, and companies making it more possible for those who want both a family and a fulfilling career.