A woman giving a man shoulder massage at work. (Picture: Getty)
  • The New York Times reports that Chinese startups are hiring women to be "programming motivators."
  • The job requirements include socialising with male workers and giving them massages, and employees are chosen based on their physical attributes.
  • The practice has drawn criticism in a country where beliefs about gender roles are rigidly ingrained.

Tech startups in China are trying to lure more female employees. But they're not looking for women to work as coders, engineers, and designers.

Instead, The New York Times reports that some companies are hiring what they call "programming motivators" — a controversial job title whose responsibilities include socialising with male workers, buying them breakfast, and giving them massages.

See also: ‘Beautiful girls work here’ Tencent tells men in job ads

According to Sui-Lee Wee at The Times, the practice has drawn criticism in a country where attitudes toward gender equality are rigidly ingrained.

At least seven startups are currently looking for programming motivators, according to The Times, although that number has decreased after some companies faced backlash for their job listings. One of those companies was retail giant Alibaba, which deleted an ad seeking female employees with "recognizably good looks."

Such language is commonplace in Chinese job listings, which often discriminate by gender and require specific physical attributes for female applicants, according to a Human Rights Watch article cited by The Times. Wee writes that some companies, including Alibaba and Baidu, boast about the presence of "beautiful women" at their companies to attract top male talent.

Chinese laws against gender discrimination are vaguely worded and hardly enforced, The Times reported.

Shen Yue, a programming motivator who works at Chainfin.com, told The Times that male employees will often vent to her about frustrations with their job — something they'd feel less comfortable doing around male peers. She's also expected to give massages to stressed-out coders and arrange social functions for the company. 

"They really need someone to talk to them from time to time and to organize activities for them to ease some of the pressure," she told The Times.

Some of the requirements for the job, a human resources executive at Chainfin told The Times, are having a contagious laugh, being able to apply makeup, being over 157cm, and having "five facial features that must definitely be in their proper order."

According to the article from Human Rights Watch, an Alibaba ad from 2015 mandated that applicants' "appearance should be distinct, does not need to be exceptional, but should be impressive enough to computer programmers," and suggested the programming motivators should resemble Sola Aoi, an adult film star. The requirements of the job included “waking up computer programmers and engineers every morning" and "giving positive affirmations to their work and encouraging them."

In 2015, An HR manager at another company told Trending in Asia, a Facebook page run by a state-run news outlet, that the presence of the female motivators has increased job efficiency among the largely male workforce.

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