Working mothers in China lack support from employers - and their own families

A mother holding her child.
PHOTO: Reuters

The problems working mothers face have become an increasingly hot issue around the world, and China is no exception.

More than eight out of 10 professional women who took part in a recent survey in China said they believed that giving birth had affected their chances of getting a promotion, and 30 per cent said they had tried to hide their pregnancy for as long as possible in case they were replaced.

Nine out of 10 of those surveyed said they had been asked about their plans for motherhood during job interviews even though this is illegal.

They also complained that their families were not giving them the support they needed and were struggling with work-life balance.

“I never thought one day I would become a full-time mom, but it actually happened,” said one woman, who was looking to get back to work after spending three years at home.

The survey, for which more than 8,000 professional women were questioned, found that 48 per cent took at least a year off work after giving birth, with one in five becoming stay-at-home moms for several years.

A third of the mothers admitted that their priorities had changed after giving birth, but just under 40 per cent said they had little choice but to stay at home because the fathers were too busy at work.

Only half of the women say their families seriously discussed solutions, while 30 per cent said their families told them “you think too much, the issues will be solved naturally once you have the child”.

Chinese women are legally entitled to at least four months’ maternity leave, during which time employers cannot fire them or cut their salaries.

Men are also entitled to at least a week’s paternity leave, but more than half the women questioned said new fathers did not take all their available leave, and 20 per cent said they were not able to take any time off at all.

Women who did try to return to work reported a number of problems, including tiredness and a sense they had fallen behind and were struggling to catch up in the country‘s notoriously demanding workplace culture.

Last year the South Korean movie Kim Ji-young, Born 1982 , which depicted a woman’s battle against discrimination as she tried to juggle work and family life, triggered a fierce battle about sexism.

The film was based on a bestselling 2016 novel of the same name, which has been hailed as one of the most important Korean feminist works.

A scene from South Korean movie Kim Ji-young, Born 1982.
PHOTO: Lotte Cultureworks

In China, faced with an ageing population and shrinking workforce, the government rolled out measures in 2018 to help working mothers, including subsidies for second children and extended maternity leave.

But many companies still view parenthood as a problem, and several Chinese women have filed lawsuits against their employers for dismissing them or cutting their salary after they became pregnant.

In 2017, a woman in Beijing who was sacked while pregnant won a groundbreaking workplace discrimination case against her former employer, China Railway Logistics.

The survey of 8,629 working women was carried out by the consulting and recruitment site Boss Zhipin.

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.