China’s relaxation of its one-child restriction has not delivered the population targets set by its policy planners. In 2019, the birth rate in China slumped to a seven-decade low, which experts attribute to changes in social attitudes, skyrocketing living costs as well as a demanding work culture.
One way to fix China’s demographic crisis is to lighten mothers’ burden, said Ding Lei, founder and CEO of NetEase, the second-biggest gaming company in China which also runs a popular music streaming service.
Ding made the proposal at China’s annual parliament session this week, comprising the meetings of the National People’s Congress (NPC) and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC). Each spring, delegates from a wide range of backgrounds, including political elites and tech billionaires, gather in Beijing for the legislative meetings informally known as the “two sessions.”
Ding is a member of the CPPCC, which includes other tech bosses like Tencent’s Pony Ma, Xiaomi’s Lei Jun and Baidu’s Robin Li. Ding suggested efforts should be directed to address costly childbearing, short maternity leave, an undersupply of children’s healthcare, an underdeveloped childcare system and other “practical pain points” to take burdens off women’s shoulders.
Ding further advocated for shared parental leave “at one’s discretion” to “give men more responsibilities in parenting.” The country, he argued, should bear women’s reproductive costs and the number of nursery facilities should be increased.
Most provinces in China have introduced paternity leave in recent years, but the length and implementation efforts vary across regions. In Guangdong, home to NetEase and Tencent, fathers are entitled to up to 15 days of paid paternity leave. Shanghai, on the other hand, falls on the lower end of the spectrum with 10 days.
But some experts argue the one-week average for fathers is far from enough to liberate new mothers, who receive a minimum of 98 days of paid maternity leave but could get more depending on where they reside. NetEase’s family leave policy is in line with national and regional regulations, a company representative told TechCrunch.
Occasionally, China’s tech giants disclose or give hints about their gender ratio. In 2019, 35% of NetEase’s 20,000 employees were women, the company says, and about 25% of its top management were female in the year. Online travel agent Ctrip, which prides itself on benefits for female employees, said in 2018 that over 60% of its staff were female. Jack Ma, a frequent speaker at female leadership forums, pledged in 2019 that females must make up more than 33% of Alibaba staff.