The Cheerleaders of China Tech

T. E. Lawrence (1888 – 1935) was a British archeologist, military officer, and diplomat renowned for his liaison role during the Sinai and Palestinian Campaign and the Arab Revolt against Ottoman Turkish rule (1916-1918). He was, in fact, the true Lawrence of Arabia. The 1962 film of the same name described his exploits in WWI.

He was a man of letters and wrote prolifically. So it is perhaps not surprising that when he was asked, “Why do men go to war?” he offered a rather poetic answer. “Because the women are watching,” he said.

Thin ice here in the West, the topic of gender, and I walk with a very light step. I have two daughters so I have a very vested interest in the issue. Before leaving my last assignment half of my senior staff were women and I’d like to think that I earned their respect as a fair and impartial leader.

Workplace and political issues aside, however, there is little question in my mind that men are influenced by the presence of women. As a freshman in college in 1972 my old and prestigious college, which had required the men to wear ties to dinner just a few years prior, decided to gender-integrate the freshman dorms floor by floor on the basis that the presence of the female students in the same building would calm the boys down and lessen the likelihood that they would tear the place up.

Beauty is gender-neutral, of course, and there is little argument that both men and women benefit from it in the real world (“Racism without racists, if you will). Look at a list of the rich and famous and you’ll find a physical sampling on the positive side of the good-looking scale.

Now factor in Chinese pragmatism and their very holistic approach to achieving results and it is, perhaps, no surprise that a state-run news agency recently announced that many tech firms in China are hiring “pretty girls” both to motivate the predominantly young make programmers and because said programmers are “terrible at socializing.”

They are the “cheerleaders” of Tech China and in addition to being pretty they are very talented and hold real jobs. This is in no way a company-sponsored dating service. The role involves, in addition to their normal work, sharing breakfasts or lunches, engaging in simple chitchat, playing ping pong while on break, and occasionally singing in the open office spaces.

According to at least one tech firm, the practice has had a profoundly positive impact on productivity

Many others, of course, have taken to social media to complain that the practice is both degrading to the women and promotes a negative stereotype of young male programmers as unable to socialize.

It is, I would suggest, a much more holistic and undoubtedly effective solution to office productivity than the Annual Performance Review employed by most American corporations. The boss inevitably views it as a practice whereby they are helping the subordinate reach self-actualization, the fulfillment of one’s full potential in life – they are Maslow’s angels, if you will. The employee, however, seldom shares that perspective.

In the end, I believe Scott Adams, author of The Dilbert Principle, got it right when he wrote, “In theory, the Performance Review process can be thought of as a positive interaction between a ‘coach’ and an employee, working together to achieve maximum performance. In reality, it’s more like finding a dead squirrel in your backyard and realizing the best solution is to fling it onto your neighbor’s roof. Then your obnoxious neighbor takes it off the roof and flings it back, as if he had the right to do that. In the end, nobody’s happy, least of all the squirrel.”

The basic problem is not a mean-spirited or incompetent boss, although they do exist in nature. The problem, as Dr. Richard H.G. Field, Professor of Strategic Management and Organization at the University of Alberta, wrote, the process of Performance Reviews assumes “that performance is a knowable and observable objective reality and that performance ratings are reasonable reflections of that reality.” There is, in fact, very little objective evidence of that.

Why not just provide the best work environment possible, give people the tools they need to do what you’re asking them to do, and let them get it done? The really incompetent performers will probably leave on their own anyway. Who wants to go to work each day knowing you don’t measure up? Few under-performers really need someone to point out the obvious. That’s both unproductive and insulting.

I take no position on the issue of hiring female cheerleaders. I am a man and this is my blog so I don’t hesitate to say that as a young man I would have rather enjoyed it although I don’t believe it would have impacted my productivity.   Nor, however, do I believe that a CEO who makes $10 million per year would work any less hard if they were paid a measly $5 million per year.

And I don’t think it’s fair to impose our cultural values on the Chinese. The cheerleaders, I suspect, are far more focused on taking care of their relatives and eventually forming a family than they are at what the boys in the office may think of them.   The Chinese are not narcissists.

What does make me chuckle a bit is the foreign criticism that the real issue here is that these companies do not provide male cheerleaders for the female programmers. This is linear thinking and the absolute values, like fairness, that it promotes.

A psychiatrist friend of mine once shared that there have been several scientific studies done that tracked the eye movement of men and women when they enter a room crowded with party-goers. The results, to the Chinese, were totally predictable. The men, quite sub-consciously, immediately began looking at all of the women in the room. They couldn’t help it.

The women, however, also immediately began looking at all of the women in the room, but for very different reasons. What dress were they wearing? How had they done their hair? Have they just returned from a vacation in the Caribbean or have they been holed up in their offices playing ping pong with young make programmers.

This is not an issue of equality or disparagement or respect or anything remotely resembling any of these things. It is life.

When my own daughters approach the age at which they might consider dating, although I understand that young people date in groups these days and seldom pair off, I will sit them down and offer this advice, “Remember, it doesn’t matter how smart they are or what good young men they are. It doesn’t even matter if they want to grow up to be youth pastors. Right now, they want only one thing. And even that is a little misleading. They need only one thing and they will say anything to get it. Don’t believe a word they say. But, of course, have a good time.”

The Chinese, because they employ a holistic worldview, naturally understand this. Which is why they are known to invite strippers to funerals in the rural areas.

My guess is that few of the tech cheerleaders or the young male programmers they are there to teach to socialize, think twice about the practice. Except, perhaps, to work a little harder to earn the Employee of the Month Award.

The cheerleaders of China tech are not a dating service.  They are smart and talented.  And, yes, pretty, too.

The cheerleaders of China tech are not a dating service. They are smart and talented. And, yes, pretty, too.

Copyright for title photo:  bikeriderlondon

View the author’s literary work written under the pen name of Avam Hale. Both books are available at Amazon and most major online retailers in both electronic and print formats.

Copyright © 2015 Glassmaker in China

Notice:  The views expressed in this post are strictly those of the writer acting in a personal capacity.  They are not in any way endorsed or sanctioned by his employer or any other individual with which he may be personally or professionally affiliated.