ChinAI Newsletter #8: Gender and AI in China

Welcome to the ChinAI Newsletter!

These are Jeff Ding's weekly translations of writings on AI policy and strategy from Chinese thinkers. I'll also include general links to all things at the intersection of China and AI. Please share the subscription link if you think this stuff is cool. Archive of past issues.

I'm a grad student at the University of Oxford where I'm the China lead for the Governance of AI Program, Future of Humanity Institute.

Gender Discrimination in China's biggest Tech Companies

Two translations this issue on the intersection of AI and gender in China. Let's start with an important new report from Human Rights Watch on gender discrimination in job adverts in China (h/t to my teammate at the FHI Governance of AI Program, Baobao Zhang for sharing this report with me). From the report:

- An example of job requirements listed on a Baidu advertisement: Associate's degree of above, men, any major, have relevant work experience

- Some job search website prohibit gender-specific job ads being posted on their sites, but companies get around these screeners by using homophones for nan (man), such as nan (the character for south)

- Some job postings use the physical attributes of women—often with photos of the company’s current employees—to attract male applicants. In recent years China’s biggest technology companies, such as Tencent, Baidu, and Alibaba, have repeatedly published recruitment ads boasting that there are “beautiful girls” (美女) or “goddesses” (女神) working for the companies. A Tencent male employee is featured stating this is the primary reason he joined Tencent and a Baidu male employee saying it is one reason why he is “so happy every day” at work. Alibaba’s recruitment social media account posted at midnight a series of photos of several young female employees and described them as “late night benefits.”

Anecdote from a friend - she works in the tech startup scene in Shenzhen: "I'm interviewing w/ Huawei and before I went, the first thing my mom said was how they might only want to hire men. At my current firm - my boss literally said, "no more female candidates, we need more men on the team."

I've started collecting some (very elementary) stats on gender representation at top AI firms, which I've linked below. Tencent and Baidu have no women represented in their senior management teams, while Alibaba has 36% female representation in their senior management team. These figures trail their U.S. counterparts (though not by as much as you'd expect)


Gender representation in senior management at top Chinese AI firms:

Article: AI research w/o women’s equal participation will become prejudicial

First translation is from UN Women China, a program of the UN Population Fund’s China Program (11% of its programming expenses are targeted toward gender equality efforts)

- past instances of how lack of gender representation in designing and implementing AI systems has led to prejudices, including: CMU Ad Fisher study, BU/Microsoft study about gender bias in image datasets, Microsoft Tay bot  
- references the film Hidden Figures and Fei-fei Li as a female leader in the field, uses a long quote from a SAP China employee
- states that women have more linkages between the left and right brain than men, and may have advantages in intuition, inspiration, and creativity (skills AI cannot easily replace)

Link to Translation of UN Women China Article

Article: Is the Era of AI More Favorable for Women?

Second translation is from China Women's News, the All China Women’s Federation newspaper (ACWF is a mass organization, now officially an NGO but very much the official voice of the party/government on women’s rights issues)

- historical examples of past technologies (industrial revolution brought opportunities for women in the workplace)
- states women have advantages in interpersonal communication, empathy, and caring
- since existing gender biases permeate procedures, algorithms, and design, artificial intelligence technology can replicate and reproduce gender inequality.
- Fei-fei Li brought up again as a female leader

From the last section on competitive pressures given the importance of Ai: Women who want to remain competitive in the era of artificial intelligence should possess the ability to continue learning, maintain creativity, and maintain and fully leverage their advantages in interpersonal communication. In view of the gender disparity in the research and development of artificial intelligence, it is necessary to have a female perspective in the new world of artificial intelligence and women (women of different backgrounds) must be involved. Therefore, continuing to encourage and promote more women into scientific research, especially in the field of artificial intelligence research is of utmost importance.

Link to Translation of China Women's News article

This Week's ChinAI Links

Important Twitter thread by Lydia Kostopoulos: compiles long list of women writing on the technology + national security issues - really no excuse for conferences/panels to only feature men

Good piece by Jaqueline Ives and Anna Holzmann at MERICS on how local governments are implementing China's national AI agenda

Another great post from the DigiChina team on how China seeks to make capital markets more accessible for rising tech companies (instead of watching them list on foreign exchanges)

Informative Technode article on how AI is changing drug discovery in China - Frank Hersey has been doing some incredible reporting on China's AI scene for Technode

Thank you for reading and engaging.

Shout out to everyone who is commenting on the translations - idea is to build up a community of people interested in this stuff. You can contact me at or on Twitter at @jjding99