Sexism and the survival of Japan.

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Sexism and the survival of Japan.

Posted on 14 May 2018 in Cultural Awareness, Japanese Corporate Culture, womenomics -
womenomics

Sexism and the survival of Japan

Recent reports in the press have shown Japan up as a ‘sexist country’ and are not good news given Japan’s current demographic crisis and their need to both attract diverse talent to Japan and garner their female workforce to further the goals of the Japanese government’s ‘womenomics’ policies. The exclusion of women from certain sacred places such as the sumo ring and recent comments by a politician about a woman’s primary role being to pro-create highlight the segregated gender roles that are ingrained within Japanese society. They are proving incredibly hard to change given their historically economic and cultural importance.

Ingrained Gender Roles

Ancient history references several Japanese Empresses and the mythology about Japan’s very creation is credited to the female goddess Izanami. However, the gender roles have since been influenced by Confucian beliefs and the patriarchal system that evolved within feudal Japan. These effectively segregated women into the realm of the household (or the water trade) and men into public life. In various periods in recent history, women have stepped out from beyond this role to support the economy and realise their own economic independence but this has never really effectively challenged the traditional expectations of women’s role within society, which has resulted in non-progressive policy making, ineffective feminist challenges as well as poor results from womenomics and its optimistic targets of creating higher numbers of females in leadership positions. Japan has consistently dropped within the rankings of the Economic Health Forum’s Gender Gap Report, even with one of the world’s highest rankings of female education and health.

Sexist Corporate Culture

The Japanese labour market is still very influenced by the ‘gendered dual system’ institutionalised after WWII, which had the ‘women as care-giver and men as breadwinner’ at its core. As a result of this management system (gendered promotions, evaluations, training opportunities, length of service valued over performance), there is an inherently ‘sexist’ corporate culture within Japan, which struggles to utilise or empower the female labour market. There is no core belief in wanting women as corporate influencers and there are ingrained values about the roles and behaviours of women amongst the main decision makers, who are unsurprisingly mostly older men. This belief that a woman’s primary role is a care-giver is no doubt the reason behind the high number of maternity harassment cases in Japan and also contributed to the recent comments by the MP regarding single women being a burden on the state. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/may/11/single-women-a-burden-on-the-state-says-japanese-mp

Re-alignment of gender roles

Although Japan’s Female Labour Participation Rate recently overtook that of the US, these figures hide the fact that many women are still in marginalised roles within the labour market. The challenges of working up the ranks within this ‘sexist’ corporate system, especially if you want a family, are great and it is not surprising many women are choosing not to do both. Granted, there are many initiatives taking place to try to balance this situation but unless ingrained gender roles are re-thought in a way not just to suit the economic needs of Japan but include challenges to core beliefs and understanding of gender equality, Japan will not be able to fully globalise nor will they benefit fully from this rich resource of female labour. Japanese women should be able to ‘shine’ to their full potential, which can include being great mothers if they so wish. The inability of the male dominated powers in Japan to address this properly has been historic and the fear behind its potential realisation is reflected globally amidst a current global backlash against female power. A sustainable, bottom-up approach is needed to re-align this imbalance from the moment children become socialised into gendered roles and experiences. This will ensure both the survival of the positive aspects of Japanese gender roles and of the Japanese race itself.

 

Sarah Parsons is MD of Japan in Perspective, a consultancy company that facilitates high-level cross-cultural business understanding and communication. They also run Female Empowerment and Diversity & Inclusion training as well as a host of other Management Training Packages. Please contact them to see how they can make sure your business is fully globalised so you can attract the best talent.

Sarah is also conducting academic research into the gender roles in Japan and how they can be influenced through socialisation in education. Feel free to contact her with your views on this article. Sarah-parsons@japaninperspective.com

 

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Foreign Graduate Employment in Japanese Companies, SOAS Conference

Posted on 4 January 2018 in Japanese Corporate Culture, News -
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On the 6th November 2017, I chaired a panel of Japanese companies and recruitment agencies at this conference at SOAS, organised by Dr Harald Conrad Harald Conrad, a lecturer on Japan’s economy and management at Sheffield University. The two day conference was aimed at sharing the realities of working for Japanese companies for foreign graduates so that the teaching of Japanese at university level can reflect these needs. Academics and students from all over Europe attended

The Japan Times featured an article about this conferenceclick here

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Ivanka Trump & Female Empowerment in Japan

Posted on 13 November 2017 in Japanese Corporate Culture, News, womenomics -
Ivanka Trump

She’s blond, she dresses well, is a not so outspoken ‘feminist’ and manages to ‘have it all’, balancing her roles as successful entrepreneur, mother of three, and style icon. No wonder Ivanka Trump has become a media darling in Japan.

So why the empty seats when she went to Japan to talk about ‘female empowerment’? Maybe because ‘empowerment’ is a culturally contextualised concept and what Ivanka Trump represents is idealised within Japan but far from reality. Her ‘reality’ is something most Japanese women won’t ever achieve-not because they aren’t as beautiful or successful as Ivanka, but because societal norms surrounding gendered behaviour are so culturally different. I imagine most people who attended this conference wanted something a bit more meaningful, especially given the lack of progress for gender equality within Japan. According to the latest figures from the recently published Global Gender Gap Reports, Japan dropped even further down the rankings in 2017 to 114 out of 144 countries, with the highest gaps being, yet again, in the number of females in management positions or within parliament.

Gendered norms in Japan

The gendered norms in Japan are ingrained within society and are one of the barriers to realising the targets set by Abe’s ‘Womenomics’ policies back in 2012, not least because the way women are expected to act are still at odds with the traits needed to get up into the higher ranks of business. Japan is awash with portrayals of strong women but somewhere along the line, they get pressured into reflecting the archetypal feminine traits that Japanese society feels comfortable with or they are criticised as being too aggressive or unfeminine. When the trailer of the recent Wonder Woman film first came out in Japan, it was automatically given the cute ‘kawaii’ voice-over treatment to make it more palatable. Encouragingly, Japanese women called this out on social media, most probably recognising that constantly being expected to act in a ‘cute’ and ‘non-confrontational’ way is not always appropriate and will certainly not support any female empowerment initiatives.

Demographic time-bomb

Japan is facing a demographic time-bomb. If Japan is committed to solving this demographic time-bomb through creating a business environment that supports increased female labour alongside higher fertility rates, it will entail grass-roots societal as well as meaningful governmental intervention. Japan may soon be able to defend itself again but if they don’t start tackling this issue on a deeper level at every opportunity they get, they may not have a population to defend.

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Theresa May’s Visit to Japan & Brexit Negotations: Will arrogance hinder UK Japan Business?

Posted on 15 September 2017 in Inter-Cultural Training, Japanese Corporate Culture, News -
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Theresa May’s visit to Japan & Brexit Negotiations: Will arrogance hinder UK Japan Business?

Theresa May’s recent visit to Japan may have been a good PR stunt but where do we stand now with Japan? The highly entertaining tea-ceremony and comments such as: “I like your dress”, “we have a good relationship” and the all-important “we will commit to a trade deal after Brexit”, were certainly reassuring but should be contextualised within the niceties often seen within Japanese negotiations. These were not false platitudes given by Abe to May, they are important parts of doing business in Japan-tatemae and relationship building- and should be read as such (reading between the lines is another important aspect of doing business with the Japanese). To assume otherwise would be arrogant, which in our current position, is not ideal. The fact is that many Japanese companies are considering something that is against all their business principles-ditching long-term business commitments to the UK- and there will be more to follow. The risk is simply too high (risk is the bottom line for all their business decisions.)

Nurturing Relationships with the Japanese

We certainly would be wise to nurture our relationship with the Japanese-they are one of our most important trading partners bringing with them high levels of job creation and long-term investment into training, education and cultural endeavours, many of which go unnoticed or unappreciated in the Western world of ‘business is business’. The simple fact is, we do business and form relationships very differently. Anyone attending the Hitachi Rail opening ceremony last year should have noticed the difference between the Japanese side’s sentiments and the British side just from listening to the speeches alone. Furthermore, the way David Cameron and George Osborne mentioned investments made into the UK from Japan at the ceremony (Nissan committed to massive investment into their Sunderland operations on that same day) with George then hotfooting it to China to tout for bidders for HS2 the very next day showed a clear contrast of our government’s mentality with the Japanese, who favour long-term relationships, loyalty and trust.

Arrogance may be our downfall

The detail-sparse and rather delusional “we are still incredibly important” flavour of Brexit negotiations mingled with a somewhat admirable British philosophy of “flying by the seat of our pants” does not in any way appeal to the Japanese. Brexit goes against the Japanese preference for long-term stability, an absolute need for details and a low-risk environment. There will also be an expectation of us meeting the obligations they would automatically expect from their investments here, which are currently neither forthcoming nor in any way deliverable. Instead, the lack of clarity and  policies based on rhetoric and arrogance currently coming from the British Government are making us look even more ‘risky’.

The UK is now a country divided by out-of-touch and in some cases quite dangerous politicians who, through a misinformed manipulation of people based in the regions who were voting against a neglect that has never been addressed rather than membership of the EU, have no real Brexit mandate from the British public-just more disillusioned people living outside of London and a negotiating charade with angry Europeans.

The fact that Downing Street were “surprised” by the demands outlined in a letter from the Japanese to the British Government regarding Brexit expectations and that Theresa May was subsequently “vexed” by the decision of the Japanese banks to leave the UK really does show a worrying level of arrogance. If we are not careful, this arrogance will stand in the way of another admirable British philosophy: our ability to “make the most out of a bad situation”. The environment we are offering now to the Japanese is not the right one. Recent comments in the press that the Japanese are being too polite to tell us don’t go far enough. They are telling us-it’s just that we’re too arrogant to listen!

For Japanese companies/executives in the UK: “Understanding why Brexit happened2

Find out more about British society and how Brexit came about by exploring Britain’s political landscape, finding out what the British people in the regions really think, why they actually voted for Brexit and understanding the different ideologies currently affecting British politics and society. We offer 1:1 Skype courses or in-house lectures on this subject aimed specifically at foreign executives in the UK or companies looking to invest here. Please contact us for further information.

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Gender Equality in the Workplace in Japan-Gendered norms still a barrier

Posted on 13 December 2016 in Japanese Corporate Culture, News, womenomics -
womenomics

I recently got back from a week in Japan where I spent some time gathering information for both my ‘Promotion of Gender Equality Training’ for businesses and my academic research into the Gender Roles in Japanese Society. I met with employees from a Japanese company and spoke to other people I met to get both a male and female perspective on Womenomics and to discuss issues such as child-care and gender equality in the workplace.

Labour Participation & Female Leaders

Although the Survey of Living Conditions compiled by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare in 2015 showed a record high number of working mothers in the labour market since 2004, they are still predominately working in part-time and temporary roles. Indeed, many of the working mothers I spoke to in Tokyo supported this by agreeing that they chose to do either part-time or contract work so they could fulfil the duties of bringing up children. Furthermore, full-time working mothers were not going for promotions to managerial levels because of the immense time commitments this would entail since they were already up at 5am sorting out the house-work and children having to do more in the evening, making the long hours and responsibility of reaching managerial level at work unrealistic and unattractive. One of the men I spoke to told me how his wife was wanting to go back into the workforce but was lacking the confidence to do this. Even with his support it seems that the corporate culture and hurdles of finding child-care and fulfilling the expectations of the educational role they are still expected to play (PTA attendance being one of the major bugbears) is still not supportive of mothers returning to work with confidence and ease nor is it giving them any incentives to want to climb the corporate ladder. No surprise that a poll conducted by the Intelligence HITO Research Institute in April 2015 showed that Japanese women have little interest in becoming managers or leaders.

yokogawa-2Gender Gap Widening

Even with all the awareness raising and structural support from the Government within their Womenomics initiatives, Japan dropped even further on the Global Gender Gap Index from 101st in 2015 to 111th in 2016 . The traditional expectations of gendered behaviour in Japanese society are very ingrained and still value men as the breadwinner and women as the house-wife/child-carer with expectations of certain gendered behavioural patterns. These attitudes are used as a socialiser to influence how women feel about themselves, behave, view opportunities and their ability to change things and can be quite harsh for those women who choose to go outside of these norms.

Grass-roots Shift

Pockets of change are happening but for more sustainability and a real change in mindset, there must be a grassroots shift in the expectations of gendered behaviour, which can only really happen from early years education (more about this in my upcoming academic paper). Until then, what the Government is ideally wanting- a rise in GDP from women entering the workplace alongside a rise in the birth rate to offset the demographic time bomb and create a workforce for the future- is going to be at odds with what women can realistically achieve within society.

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