China’s tech gi­ants show bias with porn stars


E- com­merce gi­ant Alibaba sought job ap­pli­cants with porn star at­tributes and other tech firms host adult video starlets: China’s new econ­omy pow­er­houses are not im­mune from old-style sex­ism.

Chi­nese Com­mu­nist leader Mao Ze­dong de­clared that “Women hold up half the sky,” but aca­demics say the world’s most pop­u­lous coun­try is still far from gen­der equal­ity, even in the mod­ern and fast-grow­ing tech­nol­ogy sec­tor.

Face­book chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer Sh­eryl Sand­berg’s 2013 book “Lean In” — which talks about women’s ca­reer strug­gles — has been pub­lished in trans­la­tion in China, but failed to spark the same heated de­bate as in the United States.

“In main­stream (Chi­nese) so­ci­ety, there is ob­jec­ti­fi­ca­tion of women and gen­der in­equal­ity,” said Wang Ping of the Zhe­jiang Academy of So­cial Sciences.

“It might be more se­ri­ous in tech­nol­ogy com­pa­nies,” he said, cit­ing more men work­ing in tech­ni­cal fields in the tril­lion-dollar in­dus­try.

Nas­daq- listed on­line mar­ket­place JD. com trig­gered on­line out­rage in May when it pro­moted In­ter­na­tional Nurses Day with images of health work­ers in lin­gerielike uni­forms.

“I will never buy things from JD again. What dis­gust­ing be­hav­ior!” one woman wrote.

“This is just the cor­po­rate cul­ture of JD,” said an­other poster.

The firm quickly yanked the ad and apol­o­gized.

Chi­nese au­thor­i­ties de­tained five fem­i­nist ac­tivists for over a month ear­lier this year af­ter they planned to hand out leaflets about sex­ual ha­rass­ment on public trans­port.

China has seen no court case like that of Ellen Pao, whose un­suc­cess­ful gen­der dis­crim­i­na­tion ac­tion against her for­mer ven­ture cap­i­tal em­ployer be­come a proxy trial of sex bias in Sil­i­con Val­ley. ‘Teacher Aoi’

In­stead, Chi­nese tech­nol­ogy com­pa­nies have a his­tory of invit­ing Ja­panese adult film stars to events. Although au­thor­i­ties ban on­line con­tent they con­sider por- no­graphic, il­le­gal down­loads have given some adult film ac­tresses mas­sive fol­low­ings in the coun­try.

In­ter­net tech­nol­ogy com­pany NetEase in­vited Anri Okita to its of­fices in 2013, when she ate lunch and took pho­tos with male staff. Shang­hai-based gam­ing com­pany Dream in­vited Yui Hatano to its an­nual com­pany party last year, while In­ter­net se­cu­rity com­pany Qi­hoo 360 hosted Rola Tak­izawa.

An ad­vert for sup­port staff for com­puter pro­gram­mers on Alibaba’s of­fi­cial re­cruit­ment web­site men­tioned porn star Sola Aoi — who has nearly 16 mil­lion fol­low­ers for her Chi­nese mi­croblog.

“You can be like ‘Teacher Aoi’ whose virtue and skills com­prise a dou­bly strong and per­va­sive fragrance, the world in her breast,” the ad read.

“You can be like Song Hye-kyo, from a re­spectable fam­ily, a heav­enly beauty, who makes fish sink and birds alight, who ob­scures the moon and makes flow­ers blush,” it said, re­fer­ring to a main­stream South Korean actress.

Alibaba re­moved the ad and apol­o­gized fol­low­ing crit­i­cism.

It was “in­tended to be an at­tempt at hu­mor­ous mar­ket­ing to re­cruit IT tal­ent,” the com­pany said in a state­ment. “We apol­o­gize to any­one of­fended.

“Alibaba is com­mit­ted to pro­vid­ing equal op­por­tu­nity and fair treat­ment to all em­ploy­ees on the ba­sis of merit, with­out dis­crim­i­na­tion,” it added.

But an on­line poster us­ing the name Joey Ul­tra­man said: “If Alibaba dared post this stupid lit­tle ad in Amer­ica ... the gen­der dis­crim­i­na­tion law­suits would pur­sue it to the end of the earth.”

‘Se­cret sauce’

In fact the ad­vert con­trasted with Alibaba’s place among the most open and ac­tive firms in both hir­ing women and putting them in po­si­tions of lead­er­ship.

Alibaba had al­most 35,000 em­ploy­ees by the end of March, and ac­cord­ing to the com­pany more than 40 per­cent of its em­ploy­ees are fe­male as well as nearly 35 per­cent of man­age­ment.

The fig­ures put the Chi­nese firm ahead of even the global curve.

U.S. tech­nol­ogy gi­ant Ap­ple said last year that 30 per­cent of its 98,000 work­force was fe­male.

World­wide, it es­ti­mates that 80 per­cent of the tech­nol­ogy sec­tor is male and 20 per­cent fe­male, with the ra­tio im­prov­ing to 72/28 for lead­er­ship posts.

“I feel proud more than 34 per­cent of se­nior man­age­ment are women,” Alibaba founder Jack Ma told re­porters af­ter the com­pany’s first “Women and En­trepreneur­ship” con­fer­ence in May.

“This is the se­cret sauce of the com­pany,” he said.

Alibaba’s chief fi­nan­cial of­fi­cer and chief cus­tomer of­fi­cer are women, as is its head of hu­man re­sources, Lucy Peng.

She does not ex­pect praise at work just be­cause she is a woman, she told the con­fer­ence, even though Ma of­ten praises the gen­der in gen­eral.

“When­ever I hear him speak­ing like this, I have no spe­cial feel­ings,” she said. “We’re just con­sci­en­tiously, steadily, do­ing our jobs.”


(Left) This pic­ture taken Aug. 18, 2014 shows Ja­panese porn star Sola Aoi, right, at­tend­ing a com­mer­cial event in Hangzhou, east China’s Zhe­jiang prov­ince. (Right) In this file photo taken Sept. 19, 2014, Jack Ma, co-founder of Alibaba Group, smiles dur­ing the com­pany’s IPO at the New York Stock Ex­change in New York.

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