'Only Men Need Apply’: Gender Discrimination in Job Advertisements in China

(Hong Kong) – China’s government and private Chinese companies should end their widespread use of gender discriminatory job advertisements, Human Rights Watch said in a new report today. Chinese authorities rarely enforce legal prohibitions against gender discrimination in employment and in advertising.


“Nearly one in five job ads for China’s 2018 national civil service called for ‘men only’ or ‘men preferred,’ while major companies like Alibaba have published recruitment ads promising applicants ‘beautiful girls’ as co-workers,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch. “Chinese authorities need to act now to enforce existing laws to end government and private hiring practices that blatantly discriminate against women.”

The 99-page report, “‘Only Men Need Apply’: Gender Discrimination in Job Advertisements in China,” analyzed over 36,000 job advertisements posted between 2013 and 2018 on Chinese recruitment and company websites and on social media platforms. Many of the ads specify a requirement or preference for men. Some job posts require women to have certain physical attributes – with respect to height, weight, voice, or facial appearance – that are irrelevant to job duties. Others use the physical attributes of companies’ current female employees to attract male applicants. 
Human Rights Watch found that in the 2017 Chinese national civil service job list, 13 percent of the job postings specified “men only,” “men preferred,” or “suitable for men.” For example, a posting for a position at the Ministry of Public Security news department read, “need to work overtime frequently, high intensity work, only men need apply.” In the 2018 national civil service job list, 19 percent specified a requirement or preference for men. In contrast, none specified “women only,” “women preferred,” or “suitable for women” in the 2017 list and only one specified a preference for women in the 2018 list.

Private Chinese companies, including some technology giants, have also used gender-specific ads. For instance, search engine giant Baidu advertised a job in March 2017 for content reviewers stipulating that applicants must be “men,” and have “strong ability to work under pressure, able to work on weekends, holidays and night shifts.” E-commerce conglomerate Alibaba in a January 2018 job ad stated “men preferred” for two “restaurant operations support specialist” positions.

Beyond unlawfully depriving women of job opportunities, these job ads reflect deeply discriminatory views about women: that they are less intellectually, physically, and psychologically capable than men, or that they are not fully committed to their jobs because some will eventually leave their positions to have a family.

Human Rights Watch found that in the 2017 Chinese national civil service job list, 13 percent of the job postings specified “men only,” “men preferred,” or “suitable for men.” For example, a posting for a position at the Ministry of Public Security news department read, “need to work overtime frequently, high intensity work, only men need apply.” In the 2018 national civil service job list, 19 percent specified a requirement or preference for men. In contrast, none specified “women only,” “women preferred,” or “suitable for women” in the 2017 list and only one specified a preference for women in the 2018 list.

Private Chinese companies, including some technology giants, have also used gender-specific ads. For instance, search engine giant Baidu advertised a job in March 2017 for content reviewers stipulating that applicants must be “men,” and have “strong ability to work under pressure, able to work on weekends, holidays and night shifts.” E-commerce conglomerate Alibaba in a January 2018 job ad stated “men preferred” for two “restaurant operations support specialist” positions.

Beyond unlawfully depriving women of job opportunities, these job ads reflect deeply discriminatory views about women: that they are less intellectually, physically, and psychologically capable than men, or that they are not fully committed to their jobs because some will eventually leave their positions to have a family.