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Alleged sexual misconduct by Alibaba manager shines spotlight on sexist corporate culture (again)

Written by Brady Ng Published on   3 mins read

One Alibaba manager, Wang Chengwen, allegedly forced a female employee to drink excessive alcohol. The employee woke up naked in a hotel room the next morning.

Alibaba is at the center of a scandal where a male manager is implicated in serious sexual misconduct. One female employee reported that she was sexually assaulted by a manager named Wang Chengwen in late July, when he brought her to meet a client in Jinan and got her drunk. She woke up in a hotel room the next morning with no clothes on and vaguely recalled Wang in her bed the previous night. She said she was also sexually assaulted by a client.

After she returned to Hangzhou, where Alibaba’s headquarters is located, she reported the incident to human resources and upper management, and demanded that Wang be fired and she receive time off from work. Alibaba’s HR representatives agreed to the terms, but did not remove Wang from the company.

The incident was described in a post on Alibaba’s internal discussion board, and quickly spread to public platforms that host user-generated content in China. This has renewed discussions around Alibaba’s internal culture and its treatment of women.

One post from 2018 on Douban, a social networking site, described “icebreaker” games where women who were newly employed by Alibaba were asked about when they lost their virginity and other explicit details. Fresh hires who attended these events had to participate in other “games” that involved simulated sexual acts.

Also, up until 2018, recruitment ads posted by Alibaba (and other major tech companies) involved mentions of “beautiful girls” who work on-site.

Alibaba co-founder Jack Ma once flipped his support for 996 work culture—on duty from 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., six days a week—on its head to say his employees should follow what he called “669.” He meant they should have sex six times in six days, with each time lasting as long as possible. (The number nine is a homonym of “long-lasting” in Chinese.)

On Sunday, Alibaba said it is working with police to investigate the allegations against Wang. The company stated it maintains a “zero-tolerance policy against sexual misconduct.”

Wang has been fired and will never be hired by Alibaba again, according to a post by Alibaba Group CEO Daniel Zhang. Two senior personnel who mishandled the initial complaint in early August have resigned.

Companies in various sectors, in various parts of the world, are facing fallout as cases of sexual discrimination come to light. A video of an AirAsia town hall meeting shows the airlines’ Thailand CEO Tassapon Bijleveld cutting off Tippayavut Kovanthanakul, a senior manager of strategy at AirAsia subsidiary Teleport, by saying, “What’s your f-ing question, come on.” When Tippayavut spoke in Thai, Tassapon told her to “shut up.”

Other company leaders who were in attendance—group CEO Tony Fernandes, president of AirAsia Digital Aireen Omar, and head of e-commerce Lim Ben-Jie—reacted by smiling and laughing during Tassapon’s interruptions. In a longer version of the clip, Fernandes is seen saying, “If we deliver a Thai woman to Ben-Jie, and business is good, then we have many more deliveries.”

Further afield, Blizzard Activision, the largest video game developer in the United States and the company behind games like the Call of Duty franchise, World of Warcraft, Overwatch, and Starcraft, is being sued by California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing, which alleges its women employees face gender discrimination, sexual harassment, and unequal pay.

Read this: Alibaba misses Q2 revenue target, invests in diversified retail and consumption formats

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