Firms find single moms make good managers

Women hailed as hard-working, ready to build their capabilities and keen to win promotion

by Sawako Obara

Kyodo

Raising a family as a single, working mother is a challenging task. But the qualities of determination and motivation that these mothers develop as they juggle family life and work have drawn the attention of many small and medium-size firms and foreign companies in Japan seeking candidates to fill management posts.

Harmony Residence Inc., a Tokyo-based manpower supply agency with which 1,400 single mothers seeking full-time jobs or managerial posts are registered, has helped match job seekers with over 100 companies since it was established in 2007.

“If single mothers who have to balance work and family life can flourish in management posts, society will change,” said Makiko Fukui, president of Harmony Residence.

Fukui said that when considering what kind of human resources companies desire, she came to the conclusion that single mothers are the pool to tap into. “They are very conscious about their job and will not quit easily,” she said. “They are also always working hard to develop their capabilities and are keen to be promoted.”

Many of the job seekers registered with Harmony Residence are in their 30s and 40s. Recruitment is mostly from small and medium-size companies seeking talented personnel, as well as foreign-owned corporations that consider it necessary to enhance the participation of women in order to expand their businesses, according to Fukui.

The fact that the government provides subsidies to companies hiring single mothers is also helping to encourage the trend.

A 36-year-old single mother with a 10-year-old son is among those who have successfully landed a job through Harmony Residence. Formerly in charge of a call center, she joined Heart Moving Services Co., a Tokyo-based removal company, in April and became manager of its public relations and planning department.

“In order to develop new clientele, we need the kind of sensitivity and ideas that men don’t have,” Masaaki Sawai, a managing director at Heart Moving Services, said in explaining his company’s policy.

The Heart Moving worker, who has been raising her son by herself for five years, said: “I hope I can become a model case for working women. I will also work to move up the ranks.”

Similarly, a 50-year-old woman began working as a saleswoman at Maruberu Co. in April. The Tokyo-based firm is involved in food service businesses such as operating company canteens.

The woman divorced about 10 years ago, but continued working in marketing, such as in the advertising industry.

“The people around me were really concerned about me, perhaps more than they needed to be, but I have always known that I could achieve more,” she said. “We’ll manage it one way or another if we make good use of administrative support and other systems. The joy of child-rearing is certainly much greater than the pain.”

Maruberu President Hiroshi Mitsuzawa complimented the woman, saying she is “motivated” and “cheerful.”

“Perhaps there are companies that would hesitate to hire (single mothers) out of concern about whether they can balance work and raising children, but really it is like finding flowers blooming in paths where no one goes,” he said, referring to a popular Japanese saying in the financial world that is similar to the English saying “Buy when others sell, sell when others buy.”

That said, in general, conditions for single mothers remain severe. For example, the government’s Comprehensive Survey of Living Conditions in 2010 showed that the average income of single-mother households was ¥2.6 million, less than half the average for all households.

Also, the number of single mothers in their 20s and with no working experience appears to be on the rise among job seekers, according to Agekke Corp., a Tokyo staffing agency that operates Hapi Share, an online employment site for single mothers.

“While talented personnel are being underutilized, at the same time there is an increasing number of mothers who need support such as practical training in using computers (for work),” said Fumiko Akita, a division director at Agekke.