In Depth

Chinese startups hiring female ‘programmer motivators’ to cheer male coders

Companies lure developers with promises of beautiful women to provide drinks, snacks and massages

China’s thriving tech sector has developed a bizarre auxiliary corps of female “programmer motivators”, recruited by startups as a perk for male developers.

“Part psychologist, part cheerleader, the women are hired to chat up and calm stressed-out coders”, the New York Times reports.

Their duties involve anything organising team outings, buying drinks and snacks, giving at-desk massages or simply acting as a shoulder to cry on for overworked developers.

“They really need someone to talk to them from time to time and to organise activities for them to ease some of the pressure,” Yue Shen, a programmer motivator at consumer finance firm Chainfin told the Times.

However, social skills only go so far. Some startups explicitly lure in male coders with job adverts promising a workplace staffed by beautiful women.

To be considered for the role, applicants must be at least 5ft 2in tall and have “five facial features that must definitely be in their proper order”, a Chainfin human resources executive told the Times.

A gentle voice, a “contagious laugh” and the ability to apply makeup are all also prerequisites.

One 2015 job listing for Alibaba cited by Human Rights Watch specified that their ideal programmer motivator’s appearance “does not need to be exceptional, but should be impressive enough to computer programmers”.

Programmer motivators are more commonly found at smaller startups, likely due to the online backlash Chinese commerce giants like Alibaba received when advertising similar positions in the past.

Female coders are few and far between in China’s booming tech scene, and critics say that hiring attractive women to act as cheerleaders for male employees is unlikely to advance gender equality in the workplace.

Gender discrimination in job postings is commonplace in China, with ads frequently stating “men preferred” or requiring female applicants to meet stringent physical standards unrelated to the nature of the role.

For instance, says Human Rights Watch, women applying to be train conductors in Hebei province must weigh less than 65kg (10st 3lb) and have “normal facial features, no tattoos, no obvious scars on face, neck or arms, good skin tone, no incurable skin conditions”. 

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