Japanese overtime culture thwarts Abe’s plans for more working mothers

Hiroko Yano, who worked for the same company for 20 years, recently learned that she could become a manager. The mother-of-three, who averages two hours of overtime a day, dismissed the idea, saying she didn’t want to be stuck in the office until midnight like other managers.

“I would like to have a job where I don’t have to work overtime,” said Yano, 45, a team leader at an IT solutions company, who asked that he not be. appointed. “Sometimes I think it would be better to stop working altogether and become a housewife, so that I can see my children when they come back from school.”

The Japanese culture of working long hours makes it difficult for women to take leadership positions while leaving on time, threatening to thwart Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s pledge to fill 30% of leadership positions with women by 2020. Unless more women and older people are encouraged to work, the country’s labor force could grow from 66 million to 38 million people by 2060, according to Cabinet Office calculations.

Shoko Yamaguchi, 38, mother of two and graduate accountant, believes Abe’s goal may prove elusive. Yamaguchi spoke to four recruiting companies while looking for a new job, explaining that she wanted to leave work in time to pick up her children. She was told to consider part-time work instead.

“I don’t think Abe understands how things work in the world at all,” Yamaguchi said. “Until something is done about the long-work culture, things won’t change. “

Women hold 11.2 percent of leadership positions in Japan, compared to 34.2 percent in the UK and 43.7 percent in the US, according to a Japanese government report.

While the participation rate of Japanese women hit a record 62.5% last year, it was still lower than the rate of 80.6% of men, according to the latest “Womenomics” report from Goldman Sachs Group Inc. ., written by a team led by Chief Japan. Strategist Kathy Matsui.

The gender gap begins to widen when women get pregnant, according to Nana Oishi, a professor at the University of Melbourne who studies women’s labor issues. In Japan, more than 60% of women stop working after the birth of their first child, leaving them without the possibility of returning later.

Some women quit because of bullying, called “matahara,” short for maternity harassment, Oishi said. About 30 percent of Japanese women have experienced matahara, according to the Confederation of Trade Unions of Japan (Rengo).

“There are many reasons why Japanese women don’t work full time,” Oishi said. “It all starts when they get pregnant. Once they have announced their pregnancy to their boss and colleagues, some are forced to resign because they will be a “burden” on their colleagues, who will have to take on extra work while on maternity or childcare leave. , and when her child gets sick. “

The Japanese tradition of hiring people straight out of college for lifelong positions makes it difficult for women who quit their jobs to return or seek similar full-time positions with prospects for promotion. Although more than 50% of mothers want to return to full-time if they can be excluded from overtime, less than 10% do, with most opting for part-time jobs, according to a Cabinet Office survey.

“Businesses need to change their mindset,” said Kana Takahashi, a 33-year-old mother who manages a team of accountants and auditors. “A job is not sitting at a desk 12 hours a day.”

Men in Japan work some of the longest hours in the world, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. The average Japanese man works 44.1 hours per week, the sixth of 33 countries ranked by the organization, compared to 40.5 hours in the United States and 35.3 hours in the Netherlands.

Long working hours also help explain why Japanese men spend the least amount of time doing unpaid housework among all OECD countries, averaging just 59 minutes a day. This adds to the pressure on women to balance their family commitments and work and is one of the main reasons women over 40 in Japan earn about 40 percent less than men, according to the organization.

“Unless working hours are drastically shortened at their workplace, working mothers will not ask for promotions, despite pressure from Abe,” said Oishi, a professor at the University of Melbourne. “Most have to leave their desks early to pick up their children before the daycare centers close. “

Yamaguchi, the accountant, began asking recruiters to help her find a job similar to the managerial position she held at a multinational in Japan before agreeing to a buyout program as the company downsized.

“I told them I could take a laptop and work from home in the evenings if needed, like in my old business,” she said in an interview. “I even offered to make arrangements with my husband so that I could work overtime during peak periods, but I couldn’t work overtime every day or on short notice. I was told that jobs for managers with such flexible terms did not exist in Japanese companies.

Some Japanese companies such as Hitachi Ltd., the country’s second-largest manufacturer by number of employees, are working to cut long working hours and introduce performance-related pay to help more than double female executives to 1,000 now until 2020.

In the meantime, they can lose talent to employers based abroad. Yamaguchi eventually found a recruiter who was also a working mom and helped her find a full-time managerial job at a non-Japanese company.

Takahashi, the 33-year-old mother, also held a full-time managerial position at a multinational company who understood her needs as a mother.

“My principle is that I want to be home for dinner,” Takahashi said. “I occasionally work weekends, but I don’t work ridiculous hours. “

Japan’s workforce would increase by more than 7 million people and gross domestic product could increase by 13% if women’s participation were equal to that of men, according to Goldman Sachs. For that to happen, companies need to move away from the current system that emphasizes long hours and seniority, Matsui said.

“Japanese society has changed and young people don’t want to spend their life in the office, not only women, but also men,” Matsui said. “It’s up to private companies to wake up and realize that the world has changed and adapt to it. “

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