Job transfers grow less onerous for women

by Shigemi Kotaka

Kyodo News

Among the perennial problems facing Japan’s married working women, one is particularly sticky — whether to continue working when their husbands are transferred by their companies to assignments elsewhere.

In many cases, women have had no choice but to give up their jobs and move with their husbands.

However, an increasing number of companies are introducing new systems so their female workers don’t have to make this sacrifice. Doing so is good for the firms because it helps them hold onto their female employees, who have begun playing greater roles in the workplace.

Each morning shortly before 7 a.m., Miho Minaka, 27, calls out “Have a nice day!” to her 30-year-old husband as he leaves their home in Nisshin, Aichi Prefecture, for his engineering job. About 20 minutes later, Minaka drives an hour to her office at Bayer Yakuhin Ltd. in neighboring Gifu Prefecture, where she does marketing for the local unit of the German pharmaceutical giant.

“Both of us pursue our independent careers,” she said. “That keeps us quite busy but it’s also fulfilling.”

Minaka decided to work for Bayer because she considered her job there to be free of gender discrimination. She was first assigned to a position in Kochi Prefecture. Then she began a long-distance relationship with her boyfriend from college, whom she eventually married. He was living in Aichi Prefecture at the time. She wanted to live with him after getting married but was concerned she might have to quit her job.

As it turned out, she didn’t have to worry because Bayer instituted a new system last year that allows employees to apply for transfers so they can live with their spouses. They were married last February and she transferred to her current office in Gifu.

The stability of workers’ private lives has favorable effects on their work performance, reducing employers’ chances of losing talented workers, according to Keiji Kamon, personnel manager with Bayer.

“It’s also in line with the global trend to respect workers’ wishes for diverse work styles,” he said.

Male workers at Bayer can also avail themselves of the transfer system and some have moved to other Bayer offices when their wives were reassigned to distant places, the drugmaker said.

Ayako Morikawa, 30, once nearly gave up her job at Sompo Japan Insurance Inc. when her fiance, who works at a design firm, was transferred from Tokyo to Osaka.

At the time, Morikawa was employed by Sompo Japan on condition that she work in Tokyo. In 2006, the insurer began letting employees transfer to offices in faraway locations when they were forced to move.

She got married and immediately took advantage of the rule to work at the branch in Kobe, which is within commuting distance from Osaka, where her husband was working.

“I felt motivated to do an even better job when the company granted my wish for a transfer,” Morikawa said.

After she had a baby, she moved back to Sompo Japan’s Tokyo office in 2009 because her husband had been reassigned there.

While working in the Osaka area, “I got to learn about local people’s preference to maintain close personal ties while doing business and that broadened my horizons,” she said.

According to Sompo Japan, 70 employees took advantage of the transfer system last year alone and the turnover rate for female workers was halved, thanks also to parental leave and other programs introduced to help out working women.

Until the 1990s, most women workers at Sompo Japan quit when they got engaged.

That began to change around 2002 when Yasuda Fire & Marine Insurance Co. and Nissan Fire & Marine Insurance Co. merged to create Sompo Japan.

“As two different corporate cultures fused, our company began trying to make good use of workers with different backgrounds and came to deem it imperative to have women play an important role at work,” said personnel management officer Ayuri Yamaguchi.

Faced with similar challenges, some firms have decided to re-employ women if they and their spouses return, provided it’s within a set period of time. Under such a system, however, women lose their income during the interval and the interruption puts a crimp in their career advancement.

As the working population shrinks, it is widely recognized in the corporate world that securing talented females works in a company’s best interest. This in turn has given them an incentive to let their employees follow their spouses and work in other locations.

Daiwa Securities Co. said its program for allowing employees to move with their spouses is far more popular than its re-employment plan.

Among leading corporations, those offering such programs include Hitachi Ltd., Bank of Tokyo Mitsubishi UFJ, textile maker Teijin Ltd., All Nippon Airways Co. and construction firm Taisei Corp.