Japanese Women: A Step Behind?

Women Working Full-Time

Q: Where did women find their opportunities for employment?
The Japanese economy slowed in 1973 during the first oil crisis. In the early 1970s the manufacturing sector declined and service sector grew. Subsequent growth in the economy, especially the service sector in the 1970s and 1980s, gave women chances to work. Some simply assisted others on the career track. However, compared to the old days, women are taking new career paths.

Q: How are they making their way?
Do they face discrimination? Today 9% of all corporate managers are women. Women are primarily lower level managers in large well-established firms. Only 1% of division heads in firms with over 100 employees are women. Why do women, especially educated women, choose not to work. Even if they find jobs, why do they not continue working? Why arenÕt they managers?

(1) Some women with excellent academic credentials never work or stop after getting married or having children. The percentage of working women with college degrees is less than the percentage of female college graduates in the population at large. In 1992, only 5.2% of working women had college or graduate degrees. The more educated the woman, the more likely her husband has a good education, a good job, and high salary, so wives have no need to add to their incomes.

(2) College educated women usually studied humanities or social science, not business, economics, natural science, engineering, so, women have less practical training than male counterparts.

(3) Educated women want meaningful, challenging jobs no matter what they studied, but employers rarely hire women for such posts as they usually work fewer years. Women are discriminated against when hired, trained, and rotated. Their high hopes conflict with low employer expectations. Many educated women in famous firms are soon frustrated

(4) Ambitious women seek challenging jobs, but the sacrifice may be severe. They have difficulty balancing families and careers, especially if both spouses work at demanding jobs, participate in projects with long working hours or take frequent business trips.

(5) Women may be well educated but lack commitment and not know what they want to do. Without strong commitment, they are not sure about their decision even after joining a company.

(6) Women usually work in small or medium sized firms affected by the economy. Some women and men, unable to pursue desired careers, become discouraged, changing jobs without enough new skills to qualify for better jobs. Some become 'job hoppers' with no long term strategy.

(7) Women do not have lifetime employment or mainstream careers. Male workersÕ careers are seldom interrupted by marriage, childbirth, child rearing or caring for the elderly. Many men, for better or worse, simply continue to work to support themselves, their spouses, and children.

(8) Well-educated women, who temporarily leave firms to raise children, have no established route to reenter the workforce and reinstate their status on mainstream career paths.

For working women, the higher a woman's education and the larger the company, the more equally women are treated; the salary gap between genders in professional fields is quite narrow.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Law of 1986 stipulate s women be given equal opportunity in recruitment, hiring, employment, work assignment and promotion. It prohibits discrimination in training and education, employee benefits, retirement age, resignation and dismissals. However, in reality, many women still face discrimination today.

Q: How are women discriminated against? Where does it start?
Many firms recruit men and women separately, so discrimination starts when recruits are still in school. Firms send descriptions of hiring plans for new recruits to specific schools. Choices are based on university academic standing and past experiences with their graduates. Some schools, especially women's colleges and lower-ranked coeducational colleges, never receive notices from large, famous firms. Women and men from excluded schools resort to other means like family member, professor, or family friend introductions. A firmÕs final decision depends on a number of factors: qualifications, suitability for the position, potential contribution to the firm in the future, and status of personal recommendations. In general, however, chances of being hired are few.

Q: What other discrimination do women face?
Some firms make women commute from parentsÕ houses so they can't be transferred for promo-tions. Others hire only women from certain family backgrounds so male employees can find suit-able wives.Providing qualified women with suitable, challenging jobs is not a priority. Even if hired, women are not given the same training as men. Women sometimes cannot socialize with business associates, conclude deals with customers at dinners and drinking parties or entertain and socialize with prospective customers on golf courses on weekends. Today firms entertain less than 10 years ago as tax laws prohibit entertainment expenses from being written off, yet the practice continues. Fewer entertain as today's younger generation prefers to spend free time with family and friends. They don't want to sacrifice personal lives for work related activities.