Yoko Yajima, executive officer, principal at Mitsubishi UFJ Research and Consulting, on how the law is helping female executives to gain promotion in Japan.
In Japan, the Act on the Promotion of Women’s Participation and Advancement in the Workplace came into force in April 2016, under which large corporations with more than 300 employees are now required to establish voluntary action plans for the promotion of women’s participation and advancement in the workplace. The Act requires corporations to take affirmative action by clarifying disparities between men and women in terms of percentage of employment, proportion of women in senior management positions, etc, and formulate plans, set goals and implement initiatives to correct such disparities.
The decrease in the number of women leaving their jobs due to pregnancy or childbirth, which has been a major issue in women’s employment, served as the backdrop for the Act. The effectiveness in preventing turnover was due to the 2009 revision of the Child Care and Family Care Leave Act, which required companies to allow employees with a child up to three years of age to choose to work reduced hours if they desired.
Now that more women have the right to work flexibly, and so can continue to work while raising children, women’s participation and advancement in the workplace has emerged as the next important issue. Even if policies that allow for better work-life balance prevail, the problem of closing existing wage gaps will remain – as only women will choose flexible working, and Japan will face a similar problem to that seen in Western countries.
In Japanese companies, it is very difficult for women working reduced hours and not doing overtime to participate and advance because it is still commonplace in Japan to work long hours. It is difficult for flexible workers to be entrusted with an assignment with responsibility, receive a fair evaluation based not on the length of working hours but on performance, or develop a career plan. Companies must be required to establish mechanisms for evaluations and career development based on diverse workstyles as key points to their personnel system and train on-site senior managerial staff to ensure appropriate implementation of such mechanisms. Further, it is necessary to promote flexible workstyles including telework, flextime, etc., so that all employees can step away from long work hours and achieve work-life balance.
In Japan, which has already become a super-aged society, the number of workers who require flexible working hours, not only for child care but also for caring for their elderly parents, is rapidly increasing. In particular, the issue of middle-aged men leaving their jobs to care for their elderly parents has drawn considerable attention from society. There is also growing trend among young people to value time spent on activities other than work, socialising with friends, with some younger men even taking charge of child care.
At this point in time, employees with unconventional working practices are primarily women who are raising children, and they are still a minority. The mindset must change: they should be regarded as not simply a minority but as a model for the diverse workstyles which will certainly increase in the future, and given an opportunity to flourish despite time constraints. By doing so, Japanese companies should not only achieve women’s participation and advancement in the workplace but also take the first step toward realising a diverse and inclusive management structure, which will enable them to embrace and leverage various human resources.