At an employee dinner, women were told to rank the attractiveness of the men at the table. During a team-building exercise, a woman was pressured to straddle her male co-worker in front of colleagues. Top executives traded lewd comments about male virility at company events and online.
The e-commerce giant Alibaba, one of China’s most globalized internet companies, has often celebrated the number of women in its senior ranks. In 2018, the company’s billionaire co-founder, Jack Ma, told a conference in Geneva that one secret to Alibaba’s success was that 49 percent of employees were women.
But that message of female empowerment is now being called into question after an Alibaba employee accused her boss of raping her after an alcohol-fueled business dinner. The woman, who has been identified by the police and her lawyers only by her surname, Zhou, said bosses and human resources had shrugged off her complaints. She eventually resorted to screaming about the assault in a company cafeteria last month.
“An Ali male executive raped a female subordinate, and no one in the company has pursued this,” Ms. Zhou yelled, according to a video that was posted on the internet.
fired the man accused of rape, said it would establish an anti-sexual-harassment policy and declared itself “staunchly opposed to the ugly forced drinking culture.” Yet former Alibaba employees say the problems run much deeper than the company has acknowledged.
Interviews with nine former employees suggest that casual sexism is common at Alibaba. They describe a work environment in which women are made to feel embarrassed and belittled during team-building and other activities that the company has incorporated in its culture, a striking departure from the image of inclusion Alibaba has tried to project.
The police investigation into Ms. Zhou’s case is continuing. Alibaba appears to be trying to keep a lid on discussions of the matter. The company recently fired 10 employees for leaking information about the episode, according to two people familiar with the matter. Most former employees who spoke with The New York Times asked to remain anonymous because they feared retaliation.
immediate changes to the way it handles workplace culture and misconduct matters after Ms. Zhou’s case came to light, the statement said. Upon examining its policies and reporting processes, the company found “certain areas that did not meet our standards,” the statement said.
The statement did not address any of the specific allegations made by the former employees who spoke to The Times.
Many Alibaba departments use games and other ice-breaking activities to make co-workers feel at ease with one another. Kiki Qian joined the company in 2017. Her team welcomed her with a game of charades. When she lost, she said, she was punished by being made to “fly the plane,” as her co-workers called it. The stunt involved straddling a male colleague as he sat in an office chair. The colleague then lay back in the chair, causing Ms. Qian to fall on top of him, face first.
“I realized while carrying out the punishment that it could be a little perverted,” Ms. Qian, 28, said in a telephone interview.
On a separate occasion, Ms. Qian said, she saw a woman burst into tears after being pressured to jump into the arms of a male colleague during a team game.
Other former Alibaba employees said ice-breaking rituals included uncomfortable questions about their sexual histories. One former employee said she and other women at a team dinner had been asked to rank their male colleagues by attractiveness. Another said she had felt humiliated during a game in which employees were required to touch each other on the shoulders, back and thighs.