Many women graduating from university this summer have had a tough time finding jobs. Prospective employers, it seems, view them more as future mothers than future executives.
Silvia Yao, 23, finds herself in that boat after graduating from Zhejiang Gongshang University. Job interviewers have asked her questions that don't seem to have much to do with career.
"Some companies asked when I planned to get married and have a baby," Yao told Shanghai Daily. "I feel confused. I don't even have a boyfriend. Why would companies care about my personal life more than my internship experience?"
Anna Xiao, 32, faces similar discrimination looking for a job. She gave birth to a daughter last year, and interviewers probe her about possible plans to have another after she is recruited.
"They don't want to have to pay maternity leave," Xiao told Shanghai Daily. "That is the main reason they are hesitant to employ women. China's new 'two-child policy' makes the situation much worse. Companies think hiring a childless young woman may be double trouble."
The government's decision to encourage women to give birth to two children as a hedge against the aging population and too few workers to support them has aggravated gender inequality in the job market.
"We consider childless women as time bombs because we don't know when they will suddenly announce that they are pregnant," said Ruby Teng, personnel manager at an accounting firm. "That means long maternity leave and many sick days during pregnancy."
Teng added, "I once recruited a woman who became pregnant three months into the job. Then she had a second child in her third year here. It drove me crazy trying to find temps to do her work while she was on maternity leave."
According to a survey on Zhilian Zhaopin, the largest online job-search platform in China, more than 20 percent of women in Hangzhou have encountered some form of gender discrimination, with the proportion rising to 43 percent among highly educated respondents.
"My boss doesn't like hiring women doctors," said Randal Fang, an administrator from a Gongshu District hospital that he preferred to have unidentified. "During the last round of interviews, women candidates outshone the men, but still my boss weeded out all the women and selected only male interns."
Fang said newly recruited interns undergo three years of training before becoming fully fledged doctors. Some women get pregnant after finishing the training, he said. If they give birth to two children in three years, it effectively means they can't work as reliably as a male doctor for at least six years.
In June, the Zhejiang government enacted the Labor Protection for Female Workers Law. It extends the previous 98-day maternity leave to 128 days and makes allowances for time mothers need to nurse their newborns. The law is designed to help women — if they can get a job in the first place, that is.
"If a woman has a child, she simply can't do the same level of work as men for a period of time," Teng said. "Companies aren't charity organizations. Therefore, we prefer to recruit men rather than women right from the start."
Although the new law clearly bans gender discrimination in the workplace and stipulates that violators face fines, it is often hard to prove that a job interview is biased against women candidates.
"When I was asked about the prospect of my giving birth to a second child, I realized that inequality still exists," said Xiao. "Given a job market like this, I would never quit a job before finding a new one."
Many businesses don't dare fire a pregnant worker because that would be construed as overt discrimination, but some aren't above giving mothers-to-be gentle hints to quit voluntarily.
"Our company fears that women will quit after taking four months of paid maternity leave," said Teng. "When interviewing women candidates, we look at their work history. If they have quit a job within a year after giving birth to a first child, we tend to figure that they will do the same if they decide to have a second baby."
Xiao said that's probably why she is having so much trouble finding a new job. She resigned her old one a year after having her daughter.
"If men were entitled to the same long paid paternity leave as women, gender inequality might ease," Xiao told Shanghai Daily.
"Women already make family sacrifices to have children. It's not fair that they should also have to make job sacrifices."