[asahi] Working women in Japan

Jean-Christophe Helary helary at eskimo.com
Thu Apr 13 19:10:48 PDT 2000

Of course the article mentions only high profile positions.

For those interested in statistics about the reality of women employement in Japan check :

http://jin.jcic.or.jp/stat/category_18.html (specific info on women and labor)


http://jin.jcic.or.jp/stat/category_16.html (page on education, where you understand why most women are not qualified for high profile positions...)

JC Helary

Working women changing the corporate landscape Females take on male-dominated Japan Inc.

Asahi Shimbun


April 13, 2000

The Equal Employment Opportunity Law of 1986 opened the doors of Japan Inc. to career-minded young women who wanted to compete squarely with their male colleagues. For those who joined established companies that year on the so-called sogo shoku or ``professional'' status-a job category for women seeking positions of responsibility equal to men-there was supposedly nothing to stop them from rising up the corporate ladder, even all the way to the boardroom.

But in the last 14 years, many such women have abandoned their once-coveted positions.

Yukari Motani, 39, is one. A graduate of the prestigious University of Tokyo with a degree in economics, Motani was hired by Nikko Securities Co. in 1986 as one of nine sogo shoku women out of about 300 recruits.

She was assigned to a section that arranged corporate mergers and acquisitions-a section of great strategic importance to the company's future. She was the only ``professional'' female on the team, but she never felt out of place because of her sex.

In 1989, Motani became Nikko's first female employee to be sent to the Harvard Business School, where she earned her MBA. And while at Harvard, she met her future husband, whom she married upon her return to Japan in 1991. Life was perfect.

But things began to change after she gave birth to her son the following year. She had to leave the office at 5 p.m. every day to pick up her boy at the daycare center, but she made up for this by working intensively during the day. She was therefore fully confident that her efficiency had not dropped in any way.

Yet, there was no mistaking the look and tone of disapproval in the way her superiors and colleagues commented about her performance. The message she kept reading between the lines was, ``Women should stay at home while their children are small.''

At the time, Japan was reeling in the immediate aftermath of the collapse of the asset-inflated economy, and Nikko was being further plagued by the problem of compensating its big customers for their investment losses. It was a bad time for Nikko, and everyone was on edge.

Motani's sense of isolation deepened after she had her second child the following year. She became convinced that the Equal Employment Opportunity Law was nonexistent when it came to getting ``Corporate Japan'' to accept working mothers as bona fide professionals. She was the only survivor of the nine sogo shoku women hired in 1986. Motani felt completely alone, having no one to talk to about her problem.

She had been with Nikko for nine years when a foreign manufacturing company offered her a managerial position in 1995. She accepted it, resolved not to let anyone in the new company know she was a mother of two. But her job required her to give up weekends and holidays whenever necessary, which meant she rarely got to spend quality time with her children.

After two years of this, Motani finally decided to switch to something she could do at home. She has since been selling tea on the Internet. Her income has dropped substantially, but she says she is glad to have made the decision.

``When the Equal Employment Opportunity Law came into effect in 1986, sogo shoku women were assigned to glamorous or high-profile posts, just so their companies could show them off for good corporate publicity,'' says Naoko Banno, head of Career Strategy Inc., a think tank on career advancement. ``Naturally, women who were truly competent and committed to their career were not fooled by that sort of token `equality.'''

Atsuko Suzuki, 30, saw through the corporate charade in her second year at a major paper manufacturing company.

When she joined in 1992, she had no reason to disbelieve the company line that men and women were on a completely equal footing. But when everyone began getting promoted in their second or third year, her turn never came before any of her male colleagues.

Realizing she would be a fool to expect any real equality, Suzuki decided to focus her energy only on what she knew she was especially good at, and refuse any menial job. She did not care if she got fired for insubordination.

After five and a half years with the company, Suzuki decided it was time to move on. She worked for two more companies in succession as a personnel management specialist, before she was hired last October by a subsidiary of Mitsubishi Materials Corp. as a key officer in charge of personnel and new business strategy planning.

Unlike the ``first generation'' of women under the 1986 law-such as Motani, who felt defeated when she realized her efforts were not being appreciated by the company-Suzuki and her contemporaries were quick to drop all illusions about being rewarded for their lifetime loyalty to the company. They knew they should start exploring new opportunities as soon as possible to develop and apply their professional skills elsewhere.

But whatever the generation, the influx of career-minded women into male-dominated ``Corporate Japan'' has set a chain reaction of changes in the mentality of their male counterparts, especially those under 35.

``The Equal Employment Opportunity Law was already in effect when those younger men entered the work force,'' Banno points out. ``Being free of the traditional preconception about the role of women in the corporate world, those men could readily relate to their female colleagues' ways of thinking and doing things, and even want to emulate them.

``For instance,'' she continues, ``seeing working mothers getting their work done as efficiently and quickly as possible so they could leave the office early, younger men realized they could do the same to spend more time on what they really enjoyed doing outside the company.

``More men today have begun to question traditional corporate virtues and customs. It was their female colleagues who got them thinking,'' Banno concludes.

More information about the lbo-talk mailing list