Chinese women asked to disclose marital status, pregnancy in job interviews
Mao Zedong once famously proclaimed that "women hold up half the sky", but the reality in China's workplaces is very different.
- Women are often asked about their marital status and family plans in job interviews
- Pregnant women often resign instead of taking maternity leave to avoid stigma
- In China, employers must provide paid maternity leave at their own expense
Chinese women are hiding their marital status, as well as their pregnancy plans, in order to improve their odds of gaining employment and promotions.
Although there are laws in China preventing employers from rejecting female job candidates on the basis of their gender, some employers still require female applicants to disclose their marital and pregnancy status.
Ms Ma, who asked not to use her full name to protect her privacy, is married but not pregnant. The 28-year-old described experiencing discrimation based on her family plans.
"Many advertisers on recruitment sites explicitly stated that they only hire married women who have already given birth," she said.
"Ninety-nine per cent of employers would ask about my marital status and fertility during interviews … I generally answered honestly and [told] them that although I do not currently have a plan to get pregnant, I am considering having children in a year or two."
She said these honest answers resulted in her missing out on job opportunities.
It was a blow to her self-confidence. As a university graduate with a Bachelors degree, Ms Ma thought her qualification would help her find a satisfying job.
After a lot of failed efforts, she had to make some concessions in order to secure her current job.
"My employer put a note on my interview record that I won't have children within a year," she said.
"I have heard that my other colleagues have to sign an agreement that they will not have children within a year before they get the job."
Maternity leave stigma
Angela Jin currently works as a human resources specialist in Nanjing for a foreign-owned company. She said marital status and age are the two main factors employers look at when it comes to hiring women.
"If you are a young girl, you may not have much work experience if you just graduated from university," she said.
"But if you are still unmarried, then you are more likely to find it favourable in the current recruitment market.
"If you are a married, non-pregnant woman around the age of 30, then you have very little choice at all."
After entering the workforce, women in China also face discrimination over their pregnancy plans.
While some women postpone having children because of work, others choose to resign once they become pregnant to avoid the stigma attached to taking paid maternity leave.
According to current labour laws in China, employers must provide paid maternity leave to female employees at their own expense.
Dr Merriden Varrall, director of the East Asia program at the Lowy Institute, said implementing the maternity leave laws had been an issue.
"While on paper the laws protect women and their maternity rights, unfortunately employers are looking to try to maintain their business as competitive as possible [and] it means women are regarded as a risk," she said.
"China has an aging population, so China needs to support young people to have children in order to support the aging population."