How Chinese women ‘hold up half the sky’ but earn far less than men

Being a woman in China hides a harsh workplace truth – they take home 22pc less than men on average

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 08 March, 2018, 8:38am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 25 April, 2018, 11:36am

China celebrates International Women’s Day on Thursday, which falls on March 8 annually, with some e-commerce giants depicting women as “Queens”, insisting they should feel privileged to have born in the country, given its relative equality in lower-end pay levels. 

However, a harsh truth hides the reality: Chinese women still earn less than men on average, and have to spend more time taking care of their families, which has become a major hurdle for them advancing at work, according to a recent survey by China’s major hiring website Zhaopin Limited, China’s equivalent of LinkedIn.

On average, women earn 22 per cent less than their male counterparts, says Zhaopin, after polling more than 100,000 employees earlier this year. 

For entry- and low-level positions, the salary gap between women and men is relatively

small. However, as people are promoted to higher level positions, the gap between widens considerably, it said.

“Women’s dreams are still being restrained, their value being underestimated, and their potential being suppressed.” said Zhaopin in the survey.

“While the notion of ‘men and women holding up the sky together’ has been acknowledged by more people, working women still have to bear more judgment due to factors ranging from cultural attitudes towards work and traditional beliefs about the role of women as homemakers.”

The belief that they could “hold up half the sky”, was first presented by late Chinese leader chairman Mao Zedong, who strongly advocated equal pay for both genders, almost half a century ago.

The study suggests the yawning income gap later in careers can be partly explained by another key finding: women devote 15 per cent more time to family than men, while men spent 9 per cent more time at work.

Women were also more likely to cite convenience as the most important factor when evaluating job opportunities. Married women said they placed special emphasis on it, saying it outweighed the personal “opportunity to grow” career-wise as a criteria when selecting a job, as they sought to juggle home and work commitments.

The difference in pay for men and women, however, is by no means unique to China, with a survey from the Official Monetary and Financial Institutions Forum – the independent think tank – finding that female representation at senior levels in public finance institutions has continued to decline since 2017. Just 6 per cent of central bank governors in the world, for instance, are women, it said.

China is ranked 100 out of 144 countries and territories in the Global Gender Gap Report in 2017, published by the World Economic Forum, one place back compared with 2016.

While China may have some progress in closing its gender gap in professional and technical roles, and in women’s tertiary enrolment, the forum’s survey noted a widening pay gap between the sexes for similar work.