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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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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A Conversation with the Japanese First Lady about Womenomics

Posted on 12 May 2017 in News, womenomics -
With Akie Abe and Madame Tsuruoka

I had the great privilege of having lunch with the Japanese first lady Akie Abe on her recent visit to the UK. Given her unassigned but very important role as a figurehead for women in Japan and her involvement in raising the awareness of the issues surrounding female empowerment, I couldn’t help steering the conversation to ask her about the progress of ‘womenomics’ in Japan, especially since I run corporate female empowerment training and am carrying out academic research into how Japan can adapt their gendered cultural behaviours through education.

She spoke about how the Japanese government is prioritising the promotion of women in the workforce and albeit slow, there are some signs of progress. She agreed that the traditional corporate culture within Japan does not allow women (and men) to leave work at reasonable hours, so family life can suffer. Levels of stress are increasing amongst families trying to balance the economic need for women to go back to work alongside running a family. Domestic violence and child abuse are on also on the rise as a manifestation of this stress-she recently visited a domestic violence centre in Kobe. She also feels that Japanese women lack confidence and don’t develop themselves outside of work enough. As well as tackling the work/life imbalance typical of Japanese corporate life, this may well be another key to female empowerment. By cultivating an identity outside of work and families, women can feel more confident in their abilities. I personally couldn’t agree more being a mother, entrepreneur, lecturer, semi-professional bassoonist & pianist and amateur kick-boxer!

I also asked her which Western women she admires and she mentioned Cherie Blair and Laura Bush-both incredibly supportive first ladies, independent in their own rights and strong advocates for causes they cared about- a possible reflection of Akie Abe’s own independent and supportive role. I hope to meet her again when I go out to Japan to deliver my academic paper.

Background to my Research

The gender roles in Japan are culturally ingrained and expectations placed on behaviour carry considerable influence in everyday life. I am looking at how gendered behaviour is so strongly influenced by Japanese culture and society (family, education, media) and how this may be a barrier to the policies of Womenomics, which are unable to penetrate the unwritten and yet strongly influential expectations of how men and women should behave. These expectations work against the Government’s agenda to both encourage a productive female labour force participation and raise the birth rate whilst changing the corporate culture and lowering the gender gap -something that needs to precede both these goals. For the future survival of Japan, a re-evaluation of how cultural norms and traditional values influence gendered behaviour is needed but can only effectively take root if happening from the bottom up through education. I will look at how gender socialisation happens within the family, media and most importantly education and will open the debate on how the traditional and cultural values and norms of Japan regarding gender can be preserved within the educational system whilst re-defining the gendered behaviours that presently are a barrier to gender equality within Japan.

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‘Kawaii’- is it standing in the way of female empowerment in Japan?

Posted on 8 March 2017 in womenomics -
Aggretsuko

It seems fitting on International Women’s Day to share some of the research I am currently doing in preparation for a talk at Rikkyo University’s Gender Forum this year. My research covers ‘The Gender roles in Japan’ and looks at whether those roles are so ingrained within Japanese society that they need to be tackled more from a grassroots perspective to really implement change. Company and government led initiatives are still happening within the ingrained expectations of gendered behaviour and therefore have limitations to their effectiveness. Although ‘gender diversity’ and ‘womenomics’ are key buzz words in Japan and there are pockets of advancement, Japan dropped significantly in the Global Gender Gap Report from 2015 to 2016. Furthermore, if Japan wishes to encourage their female workforce to both support Japan’s economy by participating in the workforce fully and off-set their demographic time-bomb by having more babies, fundamental shifts in the gender roles in society need to happen.

The situation is complex and challenging. For women in Japan, social etiquette dictates from a young age how to behave and how to look. An interesting element of this is the ‘kawaii’ sub- culture that has been very influential in defining how women act and behave and is perceived as a desirable trait for a woman to possess. There is no doubt that the cutesy image of Japanese women has been a strong feminine archetype and has permeated many areas of society but the over-emphasis of this as a feminine archetype may be an obstacle in the workplace, preventing women from adopting traits that are non-kawaii but that may support them in attaining female empowerment, leadership skills and being confident in their job capabilities.

Whether we like it or not, success in the wider world of business is still based on masculine traits and there are still judgements made of male and female behaviour on whether you can do a job effectively. On a Linkedin thought leadership post today, I noticed that advice for women wanting to look ‘powerful’ and ‘strong’ is to rid themselves of overly feminine behaviours when presenting and adopt more masculine ones. This may work in the West to some extent, although aggressive women are still treated differently to aggressive men, but can be detrimental for women in Japan.

This doesn’t mean that Japanese women are just smiling kawaii robots. Read this article about how Sanrio, the producers of Hello Kitty have produced an angry panda, Aggretsuko, that rebels against this expectation of being ‘kawaii’ to see how widespread this expectation of kawaii is and how stifling it is. “Japanese girls suffer from a social structure where we are supposed to act properly. But many of us have two sides. They might look cute on the outside but can be aggressive inside. Sanrio shows this kind of girl quite well with Aggretsuko”.

So can the gender roles in Japan be made more favourable to gender diversity? Various models exist around the world but can they be adopted in Japan? Yes, I believe they can through grassroots change within a Japanese context. Going back to my research, I believe that one of the areas this can happen effectively is within early Year’s Education, not least because schools play such a strong role in socialisation within Japanese society but also because studies show that ‘kawaii’ is a significant factor amongst interactions within early year’s education and will no doubt shape the perceptions of children and gendered behaviour significantl

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