Afotimber A woman who interned at NIO last year has accused the Chinese electric vehicle giant of discriminatory hiring practices and a toxic workplace culture of prevalent sexual harassment. The former intern, who described herself as a top-performing employee during her tenure, claimed she was denied a full-time position after she was raped by a male colleague, an incident that made the company see her as “detrimental” to its reputation.
The dispute came to light on March 3 when the woman took to social media. On Chinese lifestyle app Xiaohongshu, she wrote that roughly a month after she joined NIO’s research and development team in the autonomous driving department, a male colleague attempted to sexually assault her during an after-work outing. According to a court document posted by the woman, the perpetrator was found guilty of rape and was sentenced to 10 months in prison after she filed a lawsuit against him.
However, her legal victory came at a terrible price to her career at NIO, the former intern alleged. In the Xiaohongshu post, she stated that despite her “exceptional” performance at the job, NIO didn’t offer her a full-time position when the internship ended for reasons she suspected had to do with the incident. “Someone from the human resources department referred to me as a person who risked harming the company’s image,” she wrote. “I have audio recordings to prove that.”
Additionally, the woman claimed that she wasn’t the only victim of workplace sexual misconduct at NIO. “Over the course of the first month of my internship, I heard at least three cases of sexual harassment on my floor,” she wrote. “Some of those offenders are still working at NIO, whereas it’s always the female victims who got let go.”
Her original complaint on Xiaohongshu was taken down shortly after it went up. While her following two posts faced the same fate despite her posting under different names, screenshots of her allegations made their way across social media. Over the weekend, several hashtags related to the revelation trended on Weibo, resulting in a major backlash against the electric vehicle (EV) maker.
In response to the criticism, NIO released a statement on Weibo on March 4, saying that the former intern’s post had prompted an “immediate internal investigation,” which found that the assailant was also an intern at the time and the sexual assault incident took place when the two were “hanging out” on a Saturday. The firm stressed that it had fired the man in question after he was arrested, and that it would examine its hiring procedure before giving the woman a conclusion.
“We have a zero-tolerance policy toward any acts of sexual harassment and illegal behavior. We investigate every complaint thoroughly,” NIO said in its statement.
The response was far from satisfactory for the former intern, who hit back in another Xiaohongshu post questioning NIO’s description of the incident. She accused the firm of misleading the public by wording the weekend outing as a romantic affair between the two employees, which in reality, she said, was presented to her as a “team-bonding” activity by the male colleague. She added that she had turned down the suggestion multiple times before she eventually agreed to participate.
“All I want is a sincere apology from NIO for its mishandling of sexual harassment cases in the past, and for the company to rectify the atmosphere and improve their measures,” she wrote, adding that she was never looking for financial compensation or the opportunity to be re-hired by the firm.
Founded in 2014 and headquartered in Shanghai, NIO is one of the dominant players in China’s hot EV market, which is the world’s largest. In 2018, in one of that year’s largest Chinese public offerings in the U.S., the Tencent-backed company debuted on the New York Stock Exchange, with early investors eager to claim stakes in what they saw as a potential rival to Tesla. In 2022, NIO delivered 122,486 vehicles, representing an increase of 34% from 2021. With an ambition to become a global EV leader, the company plans to boost its European profile this year before expanding to 25 countries.
This recent scandal came as a shock to the public, as NIO was the recipient of multiple awards given by Chinese job recruitment sites over the years for being one of the best places to work. On the Chinese internet, there’s no shortage of positive reviews of NIO by its former and current employees, who lavished praise on the company for an inspiring work environment and generous perks.
In her complaint, the ex-NIO intern called out the company for its perceived hypocrisy over its attitude toward sexual misconduct in the workplace. “It launched anti-sexual harassment lessons for employees with great fanfare but when something happened, it acted like this,” she wrote.
As a result of the #MeToo movement, sexual misconduct in the workplace — once an under-reported issue associated with shame and embarrassment — has featured prominently in the Chinese media in recent years thanks to a cadre of women who have come forward to tell their stories. On Chinese social media, many commenters stated that the NIO scandal reminded them of a high-profile case involving Chinese ecommerce and entertainment juggernaut Alibaba, which was accused by a former female employee of mishandling her complaint of sexual assault inflicted by a male senior colleague and later laying her off for “spreading false information and triggering strong social concern” that negatively impacted its reputation.