Working as a programmer is undoubtedly mentally exhausting and isolating, with hours of your work day spent in a bubble of intense concentration. Fortunately, many companies see fit to offer generous benefits for such a job, in the understanding that to consistently work hard, their employees must feel well-treated and rewarded. Often you’ll see plentiful salaries, good holidays, bonuses, gym memberships, or free food. Some internet companies in China, however, are taking a slightly different approach to ‘rewarding’ their employees: cheerleaders.
According the the Facebook page Trending in China, internet companies across China are hiring female cheerleaders for their programming teams. These “pretty” and “talented” girls have three discernible main tasks: to bring breakfast to the programmers so they have the energy for a long day of work; to generally chat to them and interact with them which is supposed to encourage them and help them overcome their social difficulties with the opposite sex; finally, these women are expected to play ping pong with the programmers in their down time.
The Facebook page goes on to say that “According to the HR manager of an Internet company that hired three such cheerleaders, its programmers are mostly male and terrible at socializing, and the presence of these girls have greatly improved their job efficiency and motivation.” Unfortunately, it’s not stated which or how many companies have hired cheerleaders so my rage must remain undirected with a wide blast radius.
Now that we have the essential facts out of the way: fucking seriously?
I suppose some credit has to be given to these companies for taking sexism, stereotyping, and exploitation and managing to wrap them up in such a neat, albeit horrendous, package. This is a system which manages to be insulting to everyone involved.
Firstly, these women who are hired to be cheerleaders must show excellent communicative talents, acting partly as therapists. You would assume that they must have a background of study in order to be equipped to do this. I’m sure when they completed their schooling or degrees after years of hard work, this is exactly the kind of job they had in mind; fawning over men. “Oh, that looks like mighty difficult work you’re doing there, I don’t think my little lady brain could handle all of that complex information, you’re so impressive.” Bullshit; you give one of these girls the opportunity to learn to code and the encouragement they’re being paid to give these men and I would be willing to bet they could set rights to the gender imbalance in that office.
It’s not even only insulting to these young women, what does it say about the men involved? The assumption that they all embody the socially awkward computer geek stereotype is beyond insensitive and says everything about how these large companies view their staff and how they’re completely out of touch with the concept of individuality. Management is so much easier when everyone is a trope. These women are essentially told to treat these men like babies, to be ‘work wives’. You think your programmers are socially inept? Have them engage in social interactions that are in some way realistic and not like some kind of small talk porn that will provide them with nothing but unrealistic views on the place and value of women in both their lives and in their workplace. A crazy way to do this might be to populate the office with more female programmers with whom they can have work-focussed productive discussion. I don’t know, maybe I’m just a radical.
The companies report that efficiency and motivation have improved but I’d venture to say that they’ve only improved because these programmers would rather be locked to their desks and have their eyes glued to their computer screens than engage in forced conversation or be socially manipulated with purchased praise. The programmer at the front of the last picture looks more embarrassed than motivated.
Look at the picture of that office and the only visible female developer in a large crowd of men. She’s forced to go to work every day and take part in this environment where her sex is treated as a reward for men. I honestly have never wanted to be anyone less. To be so undervalued and in the minority at your place of work that your comfort and environmental satisfaction are disregarded to such an unnecessary degree. These companies, rather than taking any initiative to solve the gender imbalance in their programming staff, which would undoubtedly help their male and female staff, are instead becoming part of the larger industry problem, making their environments unwelcoming for women. God help us if it gets to the point where a girl turns to her teacher and says “I want to work in tech!” and the teacher replies, “You’d make a wonderful cheerleader for the programmers!”
Even if these companies aren’t willing to establish initiatives to hire more women, why did it have to be cheerleaders? You want your employees to socialise, to feel valued? Then encourage them to talk to each other and cheer each other on in an inter-office support system. Make them feel valued with legitimate compliments from their co workers, not placated with fawns from someone who is paid to be there and treat them as a problem to be solved.
Trivialising this as a story from another continent, from companies that are not our problem, can no longer be an option. It’s seemingly small things like this that insidiously contribute to the larger global issue, creating a rubber band ball of inequality that appears increasingly impossible to untangle and we absolutely cannot allow it to continue.
Main Image: Trending in China