Alibaba Group Holding withdrew a job advertisement seeking candidates who resemble a popular Japanese porn actress to motivate computer programmers.
Asia's biggest internet company advertised on its website for applicants who know how to praise the "code monkeys," wake them up and organize morning meetings. Physical characteristics similar to adult film star Sora Aoi may help the applicant succeed, it had said.
The ad comes as the U.S. tech industry is under fire for alleged sexism and discrimination. While Alibaba has drawn praise for the number of females employed in senior roles, the advertisement is being criticized on Chinese social media for being offensive.
"It's not only an insult to women that such a job exists, it's also an insult to men, especially programmers," Li Weiyuan, a 26-year-old male and former programmer in Fujian, said by phone.
The posting was an attempt at humorous marketing to recruit talent, Alibaba said. While the company is still advertising for a programmer cheerleader, the reference to Sora Aoi has been removed and emphasizes that both men and women can apply.
"We apologize to anyone offended by this ad," the Hangzhou, China-based company said in an e-mail. "Alibaba is committed to providing equal opportunity and fair treatment to all employees on the basis of merit, without discrimination."
Any attempt at humor by the ad has fallen flat, leading hundreds to comment on Weibo, China's Twitter-like microblog. Reactions ranged from outrage and criticism to some who laughed it off as a marketing stunt.
The Alibaba job description still alludes to the feminine features of Song Hye-kyo, a South Korean actress who has starred in television dramas and films.
The listing said the company would consider candidates who are eloquent and have traits similar to an "alien-like old man." Below that requirement was a cartoon resembling Jack Ma, the company's billionaire co-founder and chairman.
Mr. Ma touts the fact that his company has more high-level female executives than peers. While the company counts nine women among the 30 partners that nominate a majority of the company's board, it currently has no female directors listed on its website.
At Facebook Inc., Twitter Inc., Google Inc., women account for less than 30% of board members, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Among the largest public companies in California, women hold just 11.5% of board seats and highest-paid executive positions, according to a study by UC Davis Graduate School of Management.