A new set of maternity laws has been drafted in China, which includes extending maternity leave from 90 days to 98 and requires employers to assist in medical fees; either through insurance or out of their own pockets. While on the surface this seems good for Chinese women, it’s exacerbating a major flaw in China’s maternity system that heavily tips the odds against them when trying to find jobs.
Whenever a woman goes to a job interview in China, she’ll inevitably be asked questions like, “Are you married?” “Have you had your baby?” or “When do you plan on having a baby?” The employer will usually shy away from any woman with a pregnancy risk. I even had a friend who handed an HR guy her resume at a job fair and got it immediately brushed back. “You’re not a boy,” he said.
Employers’ fear of enduring both the direct costs and lost productivity involved with maternity leave very often prevents them from hiring or promoting women. So while the law is good for those who’ve managed to get a job, it’s detrimental to women’s progress in general.
Ironically, the best thing the government could do for women would be to give men more rights. Giving men an equal amount of paternity leave would take away the incentive to hire them over women. Shenzhen made a move in this direction earlier this year when it bumped the amount of paternity leave from 10 days to 30. With a very high proportion of female workers in the city, it was intended to let men pick up some of the slack of child care. And why shouldn’t they?
I’d argue that this would be better all around, even if they had to decrease the number of maternity leave days for women in order to give men more. Say the country follows Shenzhen; adds the 30 days paternity leave to the 90 days of maternity and divides that total 120 equally between the mother and father. That gives them each 60 days with the baby – paid.
It would be unfortunate for the women, who undergo the real physical hardship of childbirth, to lose 30 days maternity leave. But that problem would be peanuts next the gross inequality of opportunity for women in China’s workforce that would be alleviated. And when you compare that proposal to the US’s maternity/paternity system, which mandates a total of zero paid days for men and women alike, it looks even better. In addition, there’s a number of social benefits that have been suggested arise from equal paternity/maternity leave.
Of course, this wouldn’t solve gender inequality in China’s workforce, but it would almost certainly help. What do you think? Would it work?