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Job hunt an uphill battle for female graduates
By Xing Zhigang (China Daily)
Updated: 2004-04-04 08:47

In the face of discriminatory hiring practices, some female college graduates are resorting to unconventional strategies.

The difficulties encountered by college graduates in finding suitable jobs underline the grim reality of China's employment situation.

The problem is particularly acute among female college grads -- a growing number of whom are resorting to unconventional job-search methods.

Besides the traditional scenarios of visiting job fairs and mailing out resumes, some female college graduates have started attaching revealing photographs to their resumes.

Inclusion of an eye-grabbing photo of the student clad in a school uniform, mini-skirt or even a bikini is seen as a way to impress prospective employers and boost the chances of landing a job.

Some female graduates also highlight their dancing and singing skills and boast they are heavy drinkers so as to prove themselves qualified for public relations posts.

These controversial strategies have sparked hot debate, with some critics labeling them a sign of moral decay.

"A job application is absolutely not a beauty contest. Is there really the need for female college graduates to present portrait albums containing sexy photos?'' asks media commentator Sun Lixian in China Youth Daily.

But female college students and some teachers defend these measures as a necessary response to unequal access of female graduates to employment.

The argument has won agreement from most male college students, one of whom said: "There is nothing wrong with their action because female graduates have the right to seek jobs in their own way.''

Bias against women

It's an open secret in China that female college graduates suffer discrimination from employers when applying for jobs. The inequation is known to almost all colleges students, including graduate students.

Xiao Xu, a female undergraduate at Beijing Normal University, learned the truth of that inequation through a painful experience last year.

She spent half a year on a futile job search in Beijing. Every time, her gender was cited as the reason for not getting the job.

"If you were only a boy!'' interviewers told her with deep regret when asked about the application result.

"I used to not believe the complaints of senior female school fellows about the hardship of finding a job and thought I could dispel the bias of employers through my strength,'' Xiao said.

"But now I am completely aware of how hard it is for female college graduates to land a job.''

Each spring a number of job fairs are held in major Chinese cities for college graduates before their graduation in July. But most, if not all, employers prefer male applicants.

It is not uncommon to see such words as "Jobs only for male students'' or "Male student preferred'' on application notices.

The biased restriction is even true for positions like accountant and office secretary, which are traditionally believed to be more suitable for females.

When employers do want to hire female students, they always set high qualifications that include strict demands for height, weight, eyesight and even appearance. That explains why some female students choose to wear heavy makeup when visiting a job fair or attending a face-to-face interview.

Wang Rui, a female graduate of China Central Finance University, said she had never used makeup until when she was advised by her classmates to do so in a bid to enhance her job prospects.

It is known that spending on cosmetics now accounts for a large portion of female graduates' total expenditure on job applications.

Age barrier

Employment prospects are equally poor for female graduate students, although it seems they may enjoy more advantages than female undergrads because of their higher level of education.

Most female graduate students routinely encounter another barrier set by employers: their age.

A female graduate student in China normally goes to university as an 18-year-old and is in her mid-twenties upon graduation.

In China, mid-to late twenties is considered the best time for women to get married and bear children. This puts female graduate students at a disadvantage because potential employers expect them to soon ask for marriage and maternity leave.

The discriminatory practices only add to the difficulty of finding employment in a society with an already tight labour market.

Labour experts have warned the employment rate for college students upon graduation may fall to 65 per cent this year, compared with over 70 per cent over the past few years. That suggests more than 1 million of this year's 2.8 million university graduates could join the ranks of the jobless in July.

Even if the government achieves its goal of helping 70 per cent of college graduates find jobs, nearly 840,000 could still fail to secure employment upon graduation. And female students currently make up about 40 per cent of all college students in the country.

Call to end discrimination

The situation has prompted more experts to call for an immediate elimination of all discriminatory employment practices, direct or indirect, against female college students.

"The provision of preferring male students to female students on job applications is definitely a gender-based prejudice which violates Chinese law,'' says Professor Li Xiandong with China University of Political Science and Law.

He explains that Item One of Clause 48 of the Constitution of the People's Republic of China stipulates that women and men enjoy equal rights in various sectors including politics, economy, culture, social and family lives.

Clause 3 of the Labour Law of the People's Republic of China also states that women, as part of the labour force, share equal access to employment and occupational selection, according to Professor Li.

He stresses that some Chinese employers are abusing their employment freedom in order to make it difficult for women to find work.

Echoing Li's views, Wu Changzhen, vice-chairperson of the Beijing Municipal Women's Federation, notes that employment discrimination against female college graduates is rampant.

"Although specific laws and regulations have been put into place to ensure equal employment opportunity for women, there is a lack of implementing measures to help achieve that goal,'' says Wu.

She suggests that related government departments adopt more effective administrative measures to create equal employment opportunities.

Despite intense criticism, employers continue to defend their preference for hiring male college grads.

A personnel manager with a Beijing electronic firm says most firms want to hire males because females are more likely to be affected by marriage and family lives.

"What's more, employing more women will push up our production cost because female workers have to be given pregnancy and maternity benefits in line with labour laws,'' says the personnel manager, who declines to be named.

That view is rejected as "outdated and unscientific'' by Liu Yunshan, vice-president of the Graduate School of Education at Peking University.

Liu says the deep-rooted prejudice results from the traditional notion that the social role of men and women is decided by their physiological difference.

"But as our fast social development has proven, both men and women have begun to break the traditional limits and the importance of gender difference has been fading in selecting occupations,'' Liu says.

"Excellent female graduates are fully capable of handling the relationship between their work and their responsibility for family and procreation."

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