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[China Daily]Du Juan: Workplace Discrimination Hits Mothers

Women with more than one child are often pushed out of jobs, as Du Juan reports. 
Arising number of women are opting to become full-time mothers after having a second child, as a result of discrimination in the workplace, according to an investigation conducted by researchers from Renmin University of China in Beijing.However, many families are unable to support a full-time mother, which means many women are struggling to hold down a job and also fulfill their role within the home, said Ge Yuhao, a researcher and associate professor at the National Academy of Development and Strategy, one of the country's top think tanks, which is affiliated with the university.As a result, many women face serious career challenges, especially as many employers are reluctant to offer them key positions because of the belief that they will need to spend large amounts of time and energy taking care of their children.

Heavy workload
Experts said women with two young children are less likely to gain promotion, and noted that sometimes employers make their lives unbearable by constantly increasing their workload with the aim of forcing them to resign.That was the experience of Mi Lai. In 2014, the 31-year-old quit her job at a multinational company in Beijing and became a full-time mother after she had her second child. "I don't regret my choice," she said."When I was pregnant with my second baby, my boss deliberately gave me a lot of tasks to ensure I was fully occupied at work. While that was acceptable, what I could not stand was that he always called, texted or emailed during my one-hour breastfeeding break for my 7-month-old first child, just to check that I was back at work on time. It was very frustrating," she added.Ge said many companies are reluctant to hire women with two young children because their circumstances inevitably mean they have to assume greater family responsibilities, and a job will never take precedence over a baby.

Affected performance
According to the survey conducted by Ge's team in January, almost all the respondents-all of whom have two children-conceded that family duties had affected their performance at work following the birth of their second child.Despite China's growing wealth and rising incomes in large cities, only 8 percent of respondents hired domestic workers to help around the home, and 30 to 40 percent of families rely on grandparents to provide assistance, according to the survey.Ge pointed out that companies are dedicated to making profits, so the main principle of recruitment is to make the best use of employees, which makes good business sense.Hiring younger women, who are likely to get pregnant and take two sets of maternity leave, lasting from four to six months each, doesn't sound like a smart choice, he added.
In the late 1970s, China introduced the family planning policy, under which most couples were only allowed to have one child. In October 2015, the second-child policy was announced, and it came into effect in January the following year. The government provides a special payment to women when they give birth, while employers pay their salaries during maternity leave.Qi Wei, 35, who works at a State-owned enterprise in Beijing, had her second child last year.When she returned to work after maternity leave, the post of head of department came up for grabs, and although Qi was the most experienced candidate, she lost out to a less-qualified male colleague."I believe the reason is obvious; I have two kids to take care of," she said.According to Ge, discrimination against women in the recruitment market is endemic because employers reason that most will have children at some point in their career.

Demographic time bomb

The reluctance to hire or promote mothers is also underscoring two major demographic problems facing the country-a low fertility rate and a rapidly aging population.In China last year, 240 million people were age 60 and older, and the figure is expected to reach 400 million by the end of 2035, according to official data.In response, the government is encouraging more couples to have babies, but the discrimination many women face in the workplace means they are reluctant to risk their career prospects.To address the problem, some people have suggested that new legislation should be formulated.Li Shouzhen, a member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference and an official with the All-China Federation of Trade Unions, urged lawmakers to enact anti-discrimination legislation to better protect working mothers' rights to employment and career development.Specifically, he suggested prolonged maternity leave for working mothers who have a second child, extending the period from the current 128 days to six to nine months.Li also suggested that employers should be encouraged to allow women with two children to work from home, and called for them to be allowed more-flexible working hours.Ge said women who have children are making a contribution to the country, so the government should sweeten the message by compensating them for loss of earnings and poorer promotion prospects."There is no doubt that women can do just as well as men in the workplace, and even better, but it's important to encourage more to stay at home if the country wants to raise the birthrate," he said.Businesses are encouraged to assume social responsibilities, but it would be wrong to force them to hire women when they prefer men, given the labor costs, he added.Cao Zhiwei, a member of the Standing Committee of the CPPCC in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, had a different opinion.He suggested the government should encourage companies to hire more women by giving tax breaks to businesses in which female employees account for a predetermined percentage of total staff members."The government could also provide subsidized medical insurance during pregnancy and maternity leave," he said."In some countries, such as the United States and Australia, the government pays a new mother's salary during her maternity leave, which cuts employers' costs. China can learn from that, too."However, Ge said it would be difficult to apply preferential tax policies because that could cause new, complex problems.Instead, it would be preferable to collect taxes based on a family's combined income, which would rebalance some of the losses women face at work."In addition, the authorities should establish a clear complaints channel for women who believe they have been subjected to serious discrimination at work," he said.

Other approaches

Xiang Tao, vice-president of human resources at the Chinese operations of Volvo Construction Equipment, a Swedish machinery manufacturer with global interests, said the company operates a no-discrimination policy."We don't rely on government policies to tell us not to discriminate against female job seekers or employees. Instead, our company believes in diversity in recruitment," she said.To reinforce that message, the company aims to raise the proportion of female employees to 25 percent of its global workforce."That's because we strongly believe that gender diversity makes the industry more competitive," Xiang said."In China, we passed the 25 percent mark in 2014, and have exceeded it ever since," she added."We don't treat our female employees any differently if they have one baby or two, because we think it's natural to have children and we respect their personal choices."Moreover, when women take maternity leave, the company hires a flexible replacement for six months.According to Xiang, in Sweden, the government pays the salaries of new mothers and fathers during their combined 12 months of maternity and paternity leave."As a company, we handle our labor costs well, but if the Chinese government adopted the practices used in other countries and paid employees' salaries during maternity leave, it would be very helpful," she said.

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