Japan’s declining workforce has been the subject of much discussion. With unemployment reaching a low of 2.2% last month, it has become a matter of concern that many businesses will find it very difficult to fill positions when they become vacant. A still relatively untapped labor resource in Japan is women.
Not Geared for Working Mothers
69.4% of females between the ages of 15 and 64 work in Japan. This is a similar figure to the number that work in the United States, but this figure does not reflect the fact that many of them are part-time workers. Unlike the women in the US, in Japan, many stop working when they have children.
The Japanese working environment is not geared for working mothers with long hours expected and companies that expect relocation on demand.
In a recent survey, more than 30% of women were concerned about how they would be judged if they took time off for maternity leave. More than 70% felt that the work environment was not conducive to having children and raising them.
Currently, the law in Japan allows mothers to take fourteen weeks off for maternity leave, and they can take childcare leave until such time as their children turns a year old, but employers place such heavy pressure on women to resign or accept demotion when they fall pregnant that this maternity leave has been dubbed maternity harassment. Add to this the dire shortage of childcare facilities in Japan and the extent of the problem becomes obvious.
Government estimates that there are over two million women that would like to return to work but are held back by the need to care for children or aging parents.
Goldman Sachs considers the increase of women in the workforce as a major priority for economic growth in Japan.
Gender Inequality is a Reality
The workplace for women in Japan is very unequal. Many women who are in the workplace are on temporary contracts, earning less, with fewer benefits, and with little prospect of promotion. Over 50% of women are employed in temporary positions. Less than 10% of the management positions in the private sector are occupied by women even though more than 40% of all positions are held by women.
This is over thirty years after the Japanese government passed legislation intended to ensure equal working opportunities for men and women.
Women are Key to Economic Growth
Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, sees women as a resource that can be used to improve the country’s productivity. He intends to increase the number of day care facilities to make it easier for women to return to work. A section of Abenomics is called Womenomics and it is dedicated to enabling women to re-join the workforce.
Goldman Sachs considers the increase of women in the workforce as a major priority for economic growth in Japan. They estimate that if the number of women employed reached 80%, the level of male employment in Japan, GDP in Japan would rise by 15%. For every percentage point that women participate in the labor force GDP rises by half a percent.
It is further estimated that were female participation rates to meet the level of male participation in the labor market by 2060 the labor force would be ten percent larger than if there were no change in the ratios of male to female participation.
It has become an economic imperative that government and business work together to encourage equal opportunity, retrain women who have left the workplace and encourage policies and workplace flexibility that will attract women back into the workforce and keep them there.