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. Sarahfirstname.lastname@example.org