The Flexible Rigidity of Women Employment in Japan

The Employment Rates for Women Grow, But Career Possibilities Remain Limited

Employment Portrait of confident Japanese business lady standing with her arms crossed
Portrait of confident Japanese business lady standing with her arms crossed

The work life of Japan is known to have its peculiarities, and quite often the spotlight falls on the lifetime employment systems and the corporate culture gave birth to such social phenomena as salarymen, unpaid overtime work, and long commuting. However, the last five years have marked a significant turn in the somewhat less discussed area of Japanese work life – women employment rates.

Dreaming Big

In 2014, the Prime Minister Shinzo Abe set a new course in economic development strategy to promote women at work that was later named “Womenomics”. The goals were set high: 30% of senior positions in public and private sectors are to be filled by women, 1o times higher than it was in 2015 (3.1%) and significantly higher than the average in most countries. But did it have any effect on the employment landscape of Japan?

According to the Internal Affair Ministry, the number of working women in Japan has hit the record heights in 2017. Among women between ages 25 and 39, almost 76% were employed. It is a 5.9% jump from the results of the 2012 survey. It is a great indicator since women in this age group were typically leaving their jobs during their prime-age to raise children, creating a drop in the employment graphs, also referred to as the “M”-graph. On the wider scale, the employment rate among women of 15-to-64 age group is 68.5% marking the 5.4% growth in employment compared to 2012.

Closing the gender and wage gap in the country could boost its GDP by 13%.

Facing the Employment Reality

However, this numbers should also be seen in the context. When considering the type of employment, the numbers show that the half of all the employed women are part-time workers with little to none social securities or benefits and a 25.7% wage gap compared to their mail collogues performing the same duties. Also, the number of regular employees among women shrank by 24.2% in 2015, compared to the 14.5% decline in regular employment among men as can be seen from the Internal Affair Ministry report.

At the same time, the number of female executives in Japan didn’t grow much since 2015, even after the goal of reaching 30% of women in senior positions was changed in 2016 to 15% for private corporations and local public officials and 7% for national civil servants. It is worth mentioning that there are no fees for companies who failed to achieve the set bar. It is especially sad if one remembers that the spousal tax break makes it more beneficial for a family to have one low-income person, and it is usually a woman who undertakes house and child care and can only be a part-time employee if she decides to get back to work.

Business to the Rescue

Japan is facing a labor shortage as the population grows older and fewer children are being born. The traditional schemes are not working effectively anymore. Japan needs to strengthen its workforce, and women are the key. According to the Goldman Sach, a multinational finance company, closing the gender and wage gap in the country could boost its GDP by 13%.

Although little known, in 2014 the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare created a program that subsidizes up to 300,000 yen for companies that promote women to managerial positions. While this incentive barely differs from a spousal tax reduction, it is still a good opportunity for a company to save on costs and contribute to the elimination of a great social issue.

Other steps could include an introduction of the childcare benefits for mothers who take shorter parental leaves, as the Daikin Industries did, or non-financial incentives as encouraging men to go on paternity leave and share their stories in publications as was done by Taisei Corporation. By doing so companies try to shift the traditional paradigm of bread-winners and care-providers towards more equal for men and women, allowing mothers to stay engaged in the employment after the childbirth.

Do you think Japan is on the brink of a great social shift? We would love to hear your opinion in the comment section below.

Today’s “otsumami” – a bite size snack:

“We cannot all succeed when half of us are held back.” — Malala Yousafzai

What do you think?

Young businessman talk to mobile phone

Rakuten is Building Its Own Mobile Network

Multinational startups team working together at the table

J-Startup Aims to Create Unicorns