Japan's Neglected Resource: Female Workers

  1. Just found another article about Japan, its culture, work force and economy. This article, found in the 7/25/2003 New York Times, focuses on its rather sex-biased culture against females in the work place. . . especially the more management positions. Interestingly, it appears that this bias could work against Japan's economy as a whole.

    I posted another article titled: Insular Japan Needs, but Resists, Immigration These articles raise questions in my mind like:

    1) When does "culture" become harmful? Or better put, When does "strict adherence" to one's culture become harmful?

    2) What is there to gain from a strict adherence to one's cultural tradition?

    We can only learn from one another. . . and hopefully not repeat mistakes. In this case, I hope that Japan can learn to over come their deeply rooted biases. Because in the world of the "Global Economy", it appears their biases will hurt them in the long run. Obviously their fate is in their hands.

    Enjoy the article.
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    Japan's Neglected Resource: Female Workers
    By HOWARD W. FRENCH


    TOKYO, July 24-When Yuko Suzuki went into business for herself after the advertising company she worked for went bankrupt, no amount of talk she had heard about the hardships facing professional women here prepared her for the humiliations ahead.

    As an independent saleswoman, she found that customers merely pretended to listen to her. Time and again when she finished a presentation, men would ask who her boss was. Eventually she hired a man to go along with her, because merely having a man by her side-even a virtual dummy-increased her sales significantly, if not her morale.

    "If I brought a man along, the customers would only establish eye contact with him, even though I was the representative of the company, and doing the talking," she said. "It was very uncomfortable."

    Japan has tried all sorts of remedies to pull itself out of a 13-year economic slump, from huge public works projects to bailouts of failing companies. Many experts have concluded that the expanding the role of women in professional life could provide a far bigger stimulus than any scheme tried so far.

    But it often seems that the Japanese would rather let their economy stagnate than send their women up the corporate ladder. Resistance to expanding women's professional roles remains high in a country where the economic status of women trails far behind that of women in other advanced economies.

    "Japan is still a developing country in terms of gender equality," Mariko Bando, an aide to Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, recently told reporters. This year the World Economic Forum ranked Japan 69th of 75 member nations in empowering its women.

    While 40 percent of Japanese women work, a figure that reflects their rapid, recent entry into the job market, they hold only about 9 percent of managerial positions, compared with about 45 percent in the United States, according to the government and the International Labor Organization. Women's wages, meanwhile, are about 65 percent of those of their male counterparts, one of the largest gaps in the industrial world.

    Japanese labor economists and others say it is no wonder, then, that Japan, which looked like a world beater 20 years ago, is struggling to compete economically today. With women sidelined from the career track, Japan is effectively fighting with one hand tied behind its back.

    "Japan has gone as far as it can go with a social model that consists of men filling all of the economic, management and political roles," said Eiko Shinotsuka, assistant dean of Ochanomizu University and the first woman to serve on the board of the Bank of Japan.

    "People have spoken of the dawn of a women's age here before," she said, "but that was always in relatively good times economically, and the country was able to avoid social change. We've never had such a long economic crisis as this one, though, and people are beginning to recognize that the place of women in our society is an important factor."

    By tradition Japanese companies hire men almost exclusively to fill career positions, reserving shorter-term work, mostly clerical tasks and tea serving, for women, who are widely known in such jobs here as office ladies, or simply O.L.'s.

    Ms. Suzuki, who went into business for herself, is the exception. These days Ms. Suzuki, an impeccably groomed 32-year-old who dresses in crisp suits and speaks at a rapid, confident clip, is the proud owner of her own company, a short-term office suite rental business in one of Tokyo's smartest quarters. "I am the only professional out of all of my girlhood friends," she said. "The rest are housewives or regular office ladies, and they all say that what has happened to me is unbelievable."

    Whatever a woman's qualifications, breaking into the career track requires overcoming entrenched biases, not least the feeling among managers that childbearing is an insupportable disruption.

    That is so even though the country faces a steep population decline and keeping women sidelined has had economic costs. Women's relative lack of economic participation may be shaving 0.6 percent off annual growth, a study presented to the Labor Ministry estimated last year.

    Meanwhile, at companies where women make up 40 to 50 percent of the staff, average profits are double those where women account for 10 percent or less, the Economy Ministry reported last month.

    A recent issue of Weekly Women magazine nonetheless recounted the stories of women who said they had been illegally dismissed because of pregnancy or had sought abortions for fear of being dismissed.

    "I reported to my boss that I was pregnant and would like to take off for a medical check," Masumi Honda, a 33-year-old mother was quoted as saying. "When I came home from the hospital, I was shocked that he had just left a message saying that I needn't bother coming to work any more."

    Other women say the intense competitive pressure in the workplace can lead to resentment, even in progressive companies, against mothers who avail themselves of child care leave or flexible work hours.

    One woman, who abandoned a career in marketing after similar experiences in two companies, recounted taking leave for three days to look after a sick child.

    "After that I was not included in new projects," said the woman, who spoke on condition that she not be identified, "and after that I felt they saw me as an unreliable person. I finally decided that if I work in a company, I must understand the company's spirit, which means I couldn't feel comfortable taking maternal benefits."

    The growing sense of urgency in official circles about these issues is driven largely by the projections of a population decline that could cause huge labor shortages over the next half-century and possibly even economic collapse. So far, though, government efforts to expand women's place in the economy have been modest and halting.

    An advisory panel appointed by Prime Minister Koizumi recommended recently that the public and private sectors aim to have at least 30 percent of managerial positions filled by women by 2020. These days there is growing talk of affirmative action in Japan.

    But changing mind-sets will be difficult. Earlier this year, former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, a member of a government commission charged with finding solutions to the population crisis, was widely quoted as saying the main reason for Japan's falling birthrate was the overeducation of its women.

    Mr. Koizumi's top aide, Yasuo Fukuda, was recently quoted as saying that often women who are raped deserve it, while a legislator from the governing party said, approvingly, that the men who carried out such acts were virile and "good specimens." The latter comment came last month at a seminar about the falling birthrate.

    While senior politicians bemoan overeducation as the cause of Japan's population problems, women unsurprisingly cite other reasons that make it difficult for them to have children and also play a bigger role in the country's economic life.

    Foremost is the lack of day care, which for many forces stark choices between motherhood and career. There are also the working hours of many offices, which extend deep into the evening and sometimes all but require social drinking afterward.

    Haruko Takachi, 37, a postal manager, is luckier than most. Her child was accepted into a 20-student nursery school opened last year by the Ministry of Education.

    It is the only public nursery school available for the 38,000 government employees who work in Kasumigaseki, central Tokyo's administrative district. Unlike most private nurseries, which close earlier, the school remains open until 10 p.m.

    "I work until 8 in the evening, but there are plenty of times when I work much later," she said. "That's just the social reality in Japan. There are some other women in my milieu, but most of them have just one child and don't plan for more."

    Ms. Suzuki, who founded her own business, has been married for several years and has no children. She regards day care as just a small piece of what is needed in Japan. Men and women, she says, must rethink gender roles-an idea that she hesitantly concludes makes her a feminist.

    "Men are really intimidated by professional women in Japan," she said. "But this is still a society where even when it looks like a woman has some authority, the men usually manage to stay on top."
    Last edit by Ted on Jul 25, '03
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  2. 11 Comments

  3. by   eltrip
    Okay, I'll bite.

    When a society or culture disregards the potential of half of its population, it is asking to fail. Placing the blame for falling birth rates on the "overeducation of women" is much easier than addressing the problems that cause both adults in a family to need to work outside of the home. In the past, few men or women were educated and few had adequate resources to do more than survive.

    Education equals opportunity, as I've stated on more than one occasion. I have no understanding of Japanese culture, but in this culture the education of women can frequently prevent the need for public assistance if the wife suddenly finds herself without her husband (but has any number of children). It can help the woman to manage the income of her household and make informed decisions.

    I think the real question is: what does this culture expect from its members in a world that is becoming increasingly globalized? How do they remain competitive by keeping such a narrow focus? For that matter, what does our culture expect? What do we value?

    This raises more questions, of course. I see applications from this article to some regional & denominational cultures in our society. I think it comes down to who do we value? Do we value people based on gender, color, or religion or on their character & their ability to postively contribute to our society?

    I know what my answer is.
  4. by   Ted
    Originally posted by eltrip
    Okay, I'll bite.

    When a society or culture disregards the potential of half of its population, it is asking to fail. Placing the blame for falling birth rates on the "overeducation of women" is much easier than addressing the problems that cause both adults in a family to need to work outside of the home. In the past, few men or women were educated and few had adequate resources to do more than survive.

    Education equals opportunity, as I've stated on more than one occasion. I have no understanding of Japanese culture, but in this culture the education of women can frequently prevent the need for public assistance if the wife suddenly finds herself without her husband (but has any number of children). It can help the woman to manage the income of her household and make informed decisions.

    I think the real question is: what does this culture expect from its members in a world that is becoming increasingly globalized? How do they remain competitive by keeping such a narrow focus? For that matter, what does our culture expect? What do we value?

    This raises more questions, of course. I see applications from this article to some regional & denominational cultures in our society. I think it comes down to who do we value? Do we value people based on gender, color, or religion or on their character & their ability to postively contribute to our society?

    I know what my answer is.
    You raise some very good points and questions. I think education is one important key for success and flourishment. And I don't necessarily mean "financial" success and "financial" flourishment, either! ! ! Just striving to be a better "you" through education (of any kind, actually) is an important element of life.

    You raise some very good questions regarding culture and the global economy. I think that Japan. . . and even our country. . . and probably most countries. . . do not fully appreciate the concept of "Global Economy". The concept of "Global Economy" is tough for me to even understand and appreciate, except that through modern technology and transportation, the world is rapidly shrinking. With THIS in mind, I would think that any attempt to hold on to one's culture, to the point similar to Japan's adherence to its cultural traditions, is harmful.

    With the concept of the "shrinking world" in mind, you raise two important questions that we should be asking ourselves (as members of any country): "What does our culture expect? What do we value?" I think that many countries who have strict adherence to their cultural traditions will have some tough decisions to make. Strict adherence to cultural traditions and value systems will need to be questioned if the country's survival is considered important.

    Something that I see as "evolutionary" is the European Union. I have to be honest in that I'm CURRENTLY not too familiar with its history and its goals. But, through my relatively uneducated eyes, I see a significant number of nations organizing for their overall betterment. I also understant that a lot of "growing pains" have been encountered (and probably still encountering) as the European Union defines itself. None the less, the idea of several nations "evolving" to a more singular government of sorts is probably what's needed to survive in this "shrinking world". This whole process involves countries. . . indeed, individuals of countries. . . examining their cultural traditions and values. A process that is both painful and necessary.

    One thing for sure, these next few decades (if not these next few years) will be important ones as the countries of the world attempt to resolve deeply rooted conflicts and deeply rooted cultural traditions. The countries that are willing to go through the painful process of examining and evaluating their cultural traditions and values will most probably be the countries that succeed and flourish (and not necessarily in just a financial way either!) in an ever shrinking world. It seems to me that the European Union (depsite the growing pains) is well on the way towards such a success and flourishment.

    I guess I believe that in order for our species to survive, whole countries will have to come to the conclusion that the survival of "Human Kind" is more important than strict adherence to cultural traditions. Making that realization, if ever made at all, will be a challange. But the first step must be taken. . . well. . . first. And that "first step" is the process of "self examination".
    Last edit by Ted on Jul 27, '03
  5. by   colleen10
    Having worked in the business environment for the past 6 years here in Pittsburgh, unfortunately I don't see a difference in the way women in Japan are treated compared to how they are treated where I work and have worked.
  6. by   eltrip
    I have heard similar things said about Pittsbugh before. I'm curious. What is it about the culture of that area that causes it to be this way? Is it the mixture of West Virginia, Ohio, & Pennsylvania cultures/settlers that makes it so seemingly different (in a negative way) from other areas?

    Here in my part of the world, there can be wide variances within the region where I live. Ours tend to be (but not always) based on the rural-urban differences here...educational levels of the population, etc.

    Puzzling indeed!
  7. by   PennyLane
    Colleen, that is really a shame. At the company I just resigned from, my boss was a woman, as was her boss, and the vice president of our business unit. Out of 6 or 7 vice presidents in the company, 2 were women.

    I have heard that Japanese women who have spent time in the states, such as getting a degree, and then gone back to Japan have had a really hard time being accepted. The culture does not approve of women who are forthright speak their mind. I read an article a while ago where they interviewed one woman who had grown up in the states, and she said men just weren't interested in her because she spoke her mind so much. She was seen as unfeminine.
  8. by   eltrip
    Here in the states, being forthright & outspoken tends to get a woman labelled as a cold, unfeeling woman...or even worse, as a witch with a captial "B."

    Go figure.
  9. by   PennyLane
    That's true, eltrip. Just look at how the powerful and successful women in this country are ridiculed -- Oprah, Martha, Hillary.

    But I got the feeling just being an average American woman in Japan resulted in the same reaction.
  10. by   colleen10
    Eltrip,

    I don't really know the main reason is that this area seems to be that way. But Pittsburgh has a noteriety of being in-tolerant to anyone that is not caucasion, male and heterosexual.

    I'm not saying that there aren't minorities, women and homosexuals in management positions in some local companies but I doubt it's with the frequency that other cities experience.

    It's a shame because we have some really great and cutting edge universities here and I imagine that most students don't want to stick around Pittsburgh because it is so conserative.

    I think a big part of it is due to the fact that when this area was in it's hay-day it was all manufacturing, steel industry, etc. which are mostly male dominanted fields. So I think that this area has just never gotten out of that mentality.

    Also, I think a big reason we don't have many minorities here now is because Pittsburgh is on the decline and there are few jobs available to anyone, let alone say someone emigrating from another country or part of the US. Pittsburgh is very much a "who you know" kind of town which makes it nearly impossible for someone not from Pittsburgh to find a job or start a business here.
  11. by   ktwlpn
    [QUOTE]Originally posted by efiebke
    [B]Just found another article about Japan, its culture, work force and economy. This article, found in the 7/25/2003 New York Times, focuses on its rather sex-biased culture against females in the work place. . . especially the more management positions. Interestingly, it appears that this bias could work against Japan's economy as a whole.

    >>>>>>>>>.Dood-the women over there are too busy starring in Japanese porn-...I hate to stereotype a whole culture but DAYUM......NASTY STUFF it is!!! I don't know how any of that SHYTE (pardon the pun) is a turn on-to anyone.....And watch the Iron Chef -it looks like they'll eat anything,too
  12. by   Ted
    Dood-the women over there are too busy starring in Japanese porn-...I hate to stereotype a whole culture but DAYUM......NASTY STUFF it is!!! I don't know how any of that SHYTE (pardon the pun) is a turn on-to anyone.....And watch the Iron Chef -it looks like they'll eat anything,too
    Like the men and women in any country, I would think that the percentage of Japanese women involved in porn is way, way, way small. Very, very small. Remarkably small. Too small to even comment about. . .



    With regard to the Iron Chef - That is a great show. Seen it once or twice! Admittedly, some of the dishes prepared on that show seemed wierd. However, some seemed like it would be sooooooo delicious!

    I love sushi. . . I love Japanese cuisine! Just had a very fine and delicious dinner at a Japanese cuisine restaurant last night! Had one of those specially prepared and specially cooked habachi dinners! It was culinary heaven, I tell you! Culinary Heaven!!!

    Ted
    Last edit by Ted on Aug 18, '03
  13. by   Tweety
    Then there's the other side of the coin. During their boom years in the 80s I remember reading an article about how the men work 100 hours a week, and quite a few woman were happy not to work that hard. Their was a cartoon that showed men slaving away behind a desk in one frame and a female playing golf. The point being it's good to be female in Japan. (This was a Japanese cartoon, not an American one.)

    However, it is wrong to judge one's job performance and hinder them because of sex.

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