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.
Gender 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.
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.