Home News It took decades for Japanese working women to make progress

It took decades for Japanese working women to make progress


The future Japanese emperor entered the country’s elite diplomatic ranks as one of only three female recruits in 1987, a year after a major equal employment law came into effect. Her name at the time was Masako Owada, and she worked long hours and her work went smoothly. career rise Serves as a trade negotiator. But she lasted less than six years in this position before giving up her position to marry Crown Prince Naruhito, now the emperor.

Over the next three decades, much changed for Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and, in some ways, for Japanese women more broadly.

Since 2020, women have accounted for nearly half of each new diplomat class, and many women have continued their careers after getting married. In a country where women were largely employed only in clerical positions in the 1980s, these advances show how simple digital power can begin to reshape workplace culture and create leadership pipelines, however slowly.

For many years, Japan Promoting the status of women in the workplace to help its struggling economy. Private-sector employers have taken steps such as encouraging male employees to do more housework or limiting outings after get off work, which could complicate childcare. But many women still struggle to balance career and family obligations.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs, led by a womanKamikawa surpassed other government agencies and familiar companies such as Mitsubishi, Panasonic and SoftBank in an important sign of progress: placing women in professional jobs on career tracks.

Diplomat Hara Kotono said “working styles are changing dramatically” as more women join the foreign ministry, with more flexible working hours and the option to work remotely.

Ms. Hara was one of only six women who joined the department in 2005. Last year she was an event manager for an event. world leaders meeting Japan hosts in Hiroshima.

Before the G7 summit, she worked in the office until 6:30 p.m., then went home to feed and bathe her preschooler before checking in with her team online later that night. Early in her career, she didn’t think such a job was “the kind of position a mom would do.”

There has been some progress for women in foreign affairs as men from elite universities move to high-paying banking and consulting jobs, and as educated women begin to see the public sector as attractive.

However, as women advance through the diplomatic corps, they – like their counterparts at other employers – must juggle long hours on top of their workload. Most responsibilities are domestic.

Ministry staff often work until 9 or 10 p.m., sometimes even later. Shiori Kusuda, 29, said these hours tend to fall more on women. She joined the department seven years ago and left earlier this year to work in consulting in Tokyo.

She said many male bosses at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs went home and let their wives do the cooking and laundry, while her female colleagues did the housework themselves. Men are encouraged to take paternity leave, but if they do, it’s usually only for a few days or weeks.

Ms Kusuda said some parts of the culture had changed – male colleagues offered her beers at after-get off work drinking parties rather than expecting her to serve them. But for women “who need to do laundry or cook when they get home, an hour of overtime is important,” Ms. Kusuda said.

In 2021, the latest statistics available from the government, working women who are married with children shouldered more than three quarters of housework. The burden is compounded by the fact that Japanese employees work nearly 22 hours of overtime per month on average, according to a survey last year by job search site Doda.

Overtime hours are much higher in many occupations, a reality that has recently prompted the government The monthly overtime limit is 45 hours.

Before the Equal Employment Opportunity Act came into effect in 1986, women were mostly employed in “tea group” or “tea service” jobs. Employers rarely recruit women for positions that may hold executive, management or sales positions.

Today, Japan is turning female to cope with severe labor shortages. Still, while more than 80 percent of women aged 25 to 54 are working, they make up just over a quarter of full-time, permanent employees.According to statistics, only about one in eight managers is female government data.

Some executives say women are simply choosing to limit their careers. Tetsu Yamaguchi, global human resources director for clothing giant Fast Retailing Co., which owns Uniqlo, said Japanese women are “less ambitious than women in the global market.” “Their priority is taking care of their children, not developing their careers.”

Globally, 45% of the company’s managers are women. In Japan, it’s just over a quarter.

Experts say employers have a responsibility to make it easier for women to combine career success and motherhood.Career barriers for women could harm the broader economy, and as the country birth rate decreasesOverwhelming expectations at work and at home can prevent ambitious women from having children.

At Sony, only one in nine managers in Japan is a woman. The company is taking small steps to support working mothers, such as offering classes for would-be fathers to teach them how to change diapers and feed babies.

During a recent class at the company’s Tokyo headquarters, Satoko Sasaki, 35, who is seven months pregnant, watched as her husband, Yudai, 29, a Sony software engineer, put on a prosthetic belly to simulate pregnancy. physical sensation.

Ms. Sasaki, who works as a manager at another company in Tokyo, said she was touched by her husband’s employer’s attempts to help men “understand my situation.”

At her own company, she said tearfully, “I didn’t get much support from senior male colleagues.”

Course instructor Takayuki Kosaka showed a chart showing the amount of time a typical parent invests at home in the first 100 days after a baby’s birth.

“Dad didn’t do anything!” Mr. Kosaka said, pointing to the blue bar that represented his father’s working hours from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., “If he came home at 11 p.m., did he also go out drinking?” He added .

In many Japanese companies, drinking with colleagues after get off work is almost mandatory, exacerbating a culture of overwork. To curtail such commitments, Itochu Corp., which owns convenience store chain FamilyMart and other businesses, requires all such gatherings to end by 10 p.m. — still a time that makes childcare difficult.

Rina Onishi, 24, who works at Itochu Corporation’s Tokyo headquarters, said she attends such gatherings three times a week. This is progress, she said: In the past, there was a lot of progress.

After long days come nights of drinking. The company now allows employees to start work as early as 5 a.m., a policy designed in part to support parents who want to leave work earlier. But many employees still work overtime.Ms. Onishi arrives at the office at 7:30 a.m. and usually stays until after 6 p.m.

Some women set limits on working hours, even if it means giving up promotions. Maiko Itagaki, 48, an advertising copywriter, was working at a grueling pace until she was admitted to the hospital with a brain hemorrhage. After recovering, she married and gave birth to a son. But while she was in the office, her mother called to tell her that she had missed her son’s first steps.

“I thought, ‘Why should I work?'” Ms. Itagaki said.

She moved to a company that ran direct mail campaigns, starting work at 9 a.m. and finishing at 6 p.m. She turned down a promotion to management. “I thought I would end up sacrificing my personal time,” she said. “It felt like they just wanted me to do everything.”

At the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan’s ambassador to Hungary, Mitsuko Ono, was the only woman among the 26 diplomats hired in 1988.

She put off having children because she worried her boss would think she wasn’t taking her career seriously. These days, she reminds her younger female colleagues that if they want children, they are not alone.

“You can rely on day care, your parents or friends,” she said. “Even your husband.”

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