Womenomics in Japan: a discussion on women in leadership

Guest post by Mika Shimazu, Foster undergraduate and Certificate of International Studies in Business (CISB) student

Mika ShimazuOn August 6, I attended a lunch discussion at Perkins Coie on the topic of Womenomics in Japan. This event, launched by the U.S. Japan Council, is part of the new networking series funded by the Embassy of Japan to foster conversations relating to women’s leadership in Japan. As a member of the CISB Japanese Track and a female considering jobs in Japan, I found this topic to be an optimal opportunity to familiarize myself with the current situation.

The main question for discussion was “what is the current situation of women in the business world in Japan, and how can we encourage more women to remain in the workplace?”

Since elected in December 2012, Prime Minister Abe has worked to stimulate the Japanese economy through his economic policy, Abenomics. As a developed country with an aging population and decreasing birth rate, Japan will soon face a shortage of workers. Womenomics is part of Abenomic’s third arrow, structural reform.

Through group discussions we acknowledged that Japan has a skilled, educated population of women in the workplace. However, these women often quit their jobs after having children and many who remain often do not bear children. Although the government is making reforms in policies and increasing facilities to support mothers, we agreed that there was a tremendous cultural barrier to this issue. In Japan, it is the norm for women to be housewives, taking care of the family and chores, while the men work and provide for the family. In addition, there is a norm to “raise your own children,” and hiring babysitters and nannies is often looked down upon. Moreover, in this aging population, women may be in the middle of taking care of their children as well as looking after their elderly family members.

Observing the current situation, we concluded that the cultural barrier will be the significant struggle for Japan. Some suggested to start making cultural changes in smaller and more innovative companies, such as start-ups, IT companies, and non-profits. Others proposed allowing the couples to decide how to distribute their paid leaves between the mother and the father. Although the solution is still unclear, we were able to promote awareness and encourage conversations about the future of women in the Japanese business world.