It’s been 15 years since Kathy Matsui and her Goldman Sachs team coined the term “Womenomics” in their 1999 report on the need for Japan to leverage more fully half its population. Her fourth report on the topic, Womenomics 4.0: Time to Walk the Talk was published in May 2014. Finally, Matsui has found her government cheerleader in Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, now tasked with averting an economic crisis. His battle call: more working women to boost the shrinking workforce and GDP. But can the government and Japan Inc. fully get with the programme?
Progress has been made, says Matsui, but there’s a long way to go.
“The female [labour] participation rate in Japan is now nearly 63%, higher than the 57% rate in 1999,” Matsui explains. “The biggest change is probably that it’s now part of the vernacular of Japanese society, and so more people are talking about it in business circles and the media. It starts from that — talking about it; debating it; what should be done. Everybody has an opinion. I think that’s a start, but we have a long way to go before we reach the ambitious goals that Prime Minister Abe has set. We all need to work very quickly — and together — to achieve those goals.”
Matsui points to the government’s vital role in implementing change. “There are certain things that only the government can control, such as tax issues,” she says. “Once those obstacles are cleared, [more] progress can be made. Hopefully, the prime minister will also talk about it more in his public speeches.”
Indeed, Abe is widely promoting his goals for Japanese women. “Abenomics cannot succeed without Womenomics,” he stated at a summit on women in business in May. “Women’s empowerment is the core of my growth strategy… According to Ms. Hillary Clinton, if female work participation becomes equal to men, Japan’s GDP will increase by 16%.”
Abe also reiterated his 2020 goal for 30% women in leadership roles. But today the share of women in Japan’s managerial positions or on corporate boards remains one of the lowest among developed countries — 11% and 1.4%, respectively.
Should increasing the female labour participation (FLP) rate be the main objective? “That’s not enough,” says Riwa Sakamoto, overseeing diversity programmes at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI). She offered some surprising statistics at a Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan news conference in April.
“Japan’s FLP rate increase has actually led to a decrease in the birth rate. This is because there’s not enough social support for balancing work and life, especially childcare services,” she says. “Studies show developed countries with higher FLP tend to have higher birth rates, because they have these services. We need to do the same.”
As a mother of four, Sakamoto understands the challenges faced by working mothers in Japan. She credits her parents with enabling her to work outside the home. “My parents look after my children while I’m at the office. I couldn’t manage without their support.” She adds, “I’m generally allowed to leave the office at about 8:00 or 9:00 [p.m.], which is early for many government agencies. Then after getting home, I do my family work.”
Sakamoto and her METI team are pushing for policies that include support for work–life balance; revamping the labour regulations to allow flexible work hours and work-at-home options; and eliminating the childcare waiting lists. Prime Minister Abe’s goal is to provide day-care services for an additional 400,000 children by FY2017. But Sakamoto estimates the demand is actually for 850,000 to 1 million.
She also cites the need for changing the tax and social insurance systems that are now barriers to female employment. “Income distribution of married women peaks at around ¥1 million,” she explains. “This is because many female part-time workers adjust their working hours in order not to exceed the limit for spousal tax deduction (¥1.03 million) and social insurance exemption (¥1.3 million).”
To overcome some of these challenges, METI launched its Diversity Management Selection 100 project in FY2012. The purpose is to promote diversity as a smart business strategy, and spotlight companies that excel in diversity hiring practices and management. METI also joined with the Tokyo Stock Exchange in FY2012 to jointly launch their Nadeshiko Brand programme. The aim is to recommend to investors those enterprises actively promoting career development for women and work–life balance policies. Recommended companies are selected based on a scoring system.
Nami Abe, senior staff writer for the Nikkei Shimbun and former editor-in-chief of the “Working Women’s Section”, cites eldercare as another hurdle. “Women are constrained not just by their own children, but [by] taking care of ageing parents, especially now with Japan’s growing number of elderly. This is going to be a huge challenge for both men and women, and Japan’s labour market.”
According to a recent Nikkei survey, some 100,000 people leave their jobs every year to take care of ageing parents. “Japanese companies are going to have to become more flexible and accept the fact that their employees will have to spend some years taking care of their children and their ageing parents.”
Nami Abe feels the new, stricter regulations governing medical costs deepen the problem. “If a parent is frail but not in need of advanced medical care, they no longer qualify for long-term hospital care as before,” she says. There are now some 520,000 people nationwide on waiting lists for intensive care nursing homes that accept social insurance, she explains. “It’s assumed these elderly can be taken care of in the home; but if you look regionally at the local community level, there’s a huge lack of caretakers who can do this.”
At the Women in Business Summit in May, astronaut Naoko Yamazaki pointed to Japan’s inflexible education system as a major reason why there are so few women pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). “Students must decide their college major in high school … Our career is fixed … Switching majors in college is difficult”, she explains. “I really liked science when I was in high school, but wondered if it wouldn’t be better to choose a liberal arts major.”
How to get Japanese men to participate more in policy and societal reforms? Yuko Ando, one of Japan’s most-venerated senior TV news anchors, revealed her recipe for changing the Japanese male mind-set during a recent talk with the foreign press: change their mothers’ way of thinking. “Japanese mothers want to do everything for their sons,” she said. “It’s considered a positive thing, but in time their sons get spoiled. For instance, many say they’re not allowed in the kitchen. Unless you change this in the home, it will be very hard to make the change in society overall.”
On 23 June, a Tokyo city assembly member from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ruling Liberal-Democratic Party apologised for shouting sexist taunts at a female colleague during a debate the previous week.
The 51-year-old Akihiro Suzuki admitted that he had yelled: “Why don’t you get married?” at opposition assemblywoman Ayaka Shiomura. Suzuki had previously denied the taunts, which were caught on tape.
The episode sparked widespread outrage and cast a harsh spotlight on the attitudes of some older men who hold senior positions in Japan.
The case also suggested how difficult it might be for Abe’s diversity efforts to succeed in the Japanese workplace.
Original post: http://eurobiz.jp/2014/07/womenomics/
Strong In The Rain
Temple Univ. Japan Campus – Strong in the Rain Book Talk (Jan. 25, 2013)