For years Japan’s government has been touting a goal to increase the number of women in senior jobs, both in the private and public sectors. In 2003, then-prime minister Junichiro Koizumi proposed the goal of having 30% women in leadership roles by 2020. Current prime minister Shinzo Abe seized on the target, and it’s been a key feature of his “Abenomics” plans to grow the economy.
Meanwhile, though, women have continued to be held back by Japan’s deeply sexist culture. Last week, the government’s gender equality bureau caved in to reality and adjusted the goal to a more realistic 7% by 2021.
There were early signs that 30% goal might be too ambitious. In April 2014 Japan’s labor ministry promised to pay firms to promote women to senior jobs. By September of this year, it admitted that not one company took up the offer. Many executives, meanwhile, openly doubted the goal could be met. Among them was Nissan chief executive Carlos Ghosn (one of the more progressive executives in Japan), who last summer said that 10% of top jobs filled by women by the end of March 2017 was a more realistic goal for his company. And as of this summer, women held just 3.1% of the board seats (paywall) among Japan’s 30 largest companies.
Part of the problem is the way pregnancy is treated in Japan’s workplace. Nearly half of Japan’s female temporary workers are accused of “causing trouble” when they get pregnant, according to a survey released by the labor ministry in November.
Women often feel that, given Japan’s culture, they realistically have to choose between either raising a family or building a career.
Meanwhile, Japan’s working-age population is steadily declining (at over 1% annually), which is one of the reasons the government is trying to get women more involved in the workplace. The nation’s birth rate fell to a record low last year—as it did in the previous three years. Women in Japan are also facing pressure to give up careers to care for aging relatives, faced with insufficient daycare options at both ends of the age spectrum. The population is graying to such a degree that by 2017, one in 17 Japanese will have dementia.
Author: Steve Mollman
Photo credit: Reuters/Kiyoshi Ota