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Seeking to change men’s mind-sets to spur on prosperity for all Japanese

by Ayako Mie

Staff Writer

When Upper House lawmaker Masako Mori became a state minister for measures for declining birthrate, gender equality and consumer affairs and food safety last December, one of the first things she did was to announce that she would promote male staff within her ministries if they take child-care leave.

Mori, who is also the minister in charge of support for women’s empowerment and child-rearing, is a lawyer with two daughters, ages 11 and 14. She especially laments the fact that Japanese men with children under 6 years old only spend an average of 39 minutes per day on child-rearing.

One element preventing working fathers from giving a hand in raising children is that, while every worker should be treated equally, many have to fulfill a certain service period to be promoted under the seniority system in many companies, including ministries.

“One of my goals is to have a society that is free from fathers who do not help in any household chores or do not participate in child rearing,” Mori said recently. “Women cannot keep working and advancing in their career unless men help their working wives. Japanese society has to change the mind-set that people who take child-rearing leave will be disadvantaged in their career.”

The international community has called on Japan to harness women’s power in order to reinvigorate its sagging economy. It remains to be seen if Prime Minister Shinzo Abe can follow through with his pledge to capitalize on women in a country where there is still a lingering sense of a strongly male-dominant culture.

Some critics and some Japanese women agree that Abe’s policy might be somewhat different from previous proposals in the way that Abe positions working women as an engine to boost the economy: Abe included “womanomics” as a pillar policy of his growth strategy.

Previous governments have repeatedly said that Japan needs more gender equality and had set targets to capitalize on female power. But almost 30 years after the nation implemented a workplace gender equality law in 1986, the female standing in both business and politics has not seen much improvement.

Japan ranks nearly at the top of the world in women’s education and health and survival, according to The Global Gender Gap Report 2012 published by the World Economic Forum. But when it comes to women’s economic participation and political empowerment, Japan is nearly at the bottom: Japan is ranked 101 out of 135 countries in the overall gender gap ranking, down from 98 in the previous year.

Yet gender inequality is no longer only a social problem, but also an economic problem for Japan, which has been suffering decades-long economic slumps. More than 60 percent of women quit their jobs after giving birth, creating a labor shortage because there is no sustainable system to support working mothers.

According to the International Monetary Fund, if Japan can raise the female employment rate to 70 percent, it will increase per capita gross domestic product by 5 percent. A 2010 report by Goldman Sachs suggests that if Japan can bring the rate to 80 percent, it will boost GDP by 15 percent.

Furthermore, a recent report by the Dentsu Innovation Institute estimates that Japan will generate more than ¥6 trillion, almost one-fifteenth of Japan’s ¥92 trillion national budget, if the country can put almost 3.6 million homemaking mothers aged between 26 to 49 back to work.

In order to prevent female brain- and work-drain, Abe announced that he is extending the child-rearing leave to up to three years for both women and men, and pledged to fight the nationwide day-care shortage by taking measures to accommodate 400,000 children.

Mori, however, said a key to solving the problem is to change the male-oriented mind-set of Japanese society. She has already requested a budget for 2014 to introduce tax incentives and subsidies for companies that promote and create an environment where women can work while raising children.

“Women have done enough and, honestly, they do not have to try harder,” said Mori. “What we need is to change the men.”

Some critics say that introducing a quota system for female executives might be necessary to have more women in power to change the culture. Countries such as Norway, France and Italy have laws that mandate companies to have their boards consist of at least 30 percent women. In Norway, companies will be delisted from the stock exchange unless they achieve the target.

Abe has only set a nonbinding goal to increase the number of female executives to 30 percent across the board by 2020. Mori said legally mandating such a system would not resonate with Japanese culture, but may even backfire, which is why the country should take a cautious but steady step toward achieving the goal.

As a step forward, Mori has been petitioning business circles to have at least one female board member at each company. Mori has been trying to introduce a system that will mandate companies to disclose the number of female board members in their corporate governance reports as a way to add pressure.

Mori’s effort might prove to be effective, as having female board members has globally proved to help company performance. According to Thomson Reuters data, on average, companies with mixed boards performed marginally better or the same over the past 18 months, while companies with no female board members underperformed compared to companies with female board members.

The same trend is seen among Japan-based companies. According to Bloomberg, among the 700 companies listed in the first section of the Tokyo Stock Exchange, the return on equity (ROE) is plus 23 against the Topix, while the ROE of companies with no women sitting on the board scores a minus 11.

Yet Mori admits that it takes more education for male managers to understand the positive impact of female employees. That is why she is introducing the so-called Iku Boss system, or “educating boss” program. She said that Japan needs to break away from the system in which people who do so-called service overtime or unpaid overtime are valued and promoted regardless of their performance.

Such unnecessary overworking takes time away from men to look after their children or to do work around the house, creating a vicious circle where women have to do all the work. While more than 65 percent of men work more than 46 hours a week, a study indicates that more than 30 percent of men want to work shorter hours or take child-rearing leave to help raise their children.

“We have to re-educate managers to introduce a more transparent system for evaluations,” Mori said, “because it ultimately helps the performance of the company.”

As a successful lawyer who gave birth to her first child when she was studying at New York University School of Law, she admits that she wished she had a role model to emulate how to balance her life as a mother and a working professional.

Based on her experience, her plans include introducing more diverse female role models to young women so that they can know there are ways to “have it all” regardless of their economic standing or family situation.

“I still struggle and seek help from my friends who are mothers with my children’s homework,” Mori said. “But we have to create a society where giving birth to children would not be a disadvantage for a woman but rather an important part of her career.”

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  • Moonraker

    A serious look at media representation of women might help the cause of women in Japan, along with media exposure of the kind of women that Mori might regard as role models. But I guess that media is largely run by old men, just like other businesses.

  • http://getironic.blogspot.com/ getironic

    “Women cannot keep working and advancing in their career unless men help their working wives. Japanese society has to change the mind-set that people who take child-rearing leave will be disadvantaged in their
    career.””

    In other words, men don’t deserve the same treatment as women because they are both human beings, they deserve the same treatment whenever it happens to benefit women.

    That kind of reasoning is not going to change men’s minds at all.

    “Women have done enough and, honestly, they do not have to try harder,” said Mori. “What we need is to change the men.”

    And you have the powers of social engineering to attempt it, Ms. Mori. Don’t be surprised when instead of adjusting to your “vision” Japanese men simply withdraw further from society.

    “More than 60 percent of women quit their jobs after giving birth, creating a labor shortage because there is no sustainable system to support working mothers.”

    This presumes that all of those mothers stopped working because there was “no sustainable system to support them”. Where’s the evidence for that? Why is that assumed instead of “having kids allowed them the excuse of not having to work anymore, and they didn’t want to, so they quit.”. How do you know what is motivating them? No one can know because you can’t rely on a truthful answer to that question.

    Don’t be surprised when this engineering reveals that only a fraction of those women actually want to go back to work. Also don’t be surprised when career-oriented women who chose not to have kids, and men in general start to resent the benefits that their baby-happy co-workers receive at their expense.

    • Jenna

      I’m a woman who has chosen not to have kids (I’m not in Japan, though) and I don’t resent women who want benefits that allow them to work and have children. Men have been working and having children for centuries, I don’t see why women can’t do the same thing.

      Basically, I found this entire comment to be one rationalization after another defending sexist attitudes.

      • http://getironic.blogspot.com/ getironic

        Women can certainly do the same thing, and no one is stopping them: It’s called having a spouse who will stay home with the children.

        If that’s an important value to a women, and she didn’t marry a man who is willing to do that (by whatever degree) whose fault and responsibility is that? Businesses and taxpayers, or the woman’s?

        You call my comment sexist. I call yours entitled. So what?

      • Toolonggone

        Then, I will call your comment both entitled and sexist, period.

      • http://getironic.blogspot.com/ getironic

        Feel free to explain yourself, anytime.

    • Toolonggone

      Speaking of ignorance. Japan is indeed one of the countries that have a problem with supporting female workers due to the lack of its system. But what illustrates the problem most is undying assumptions that “women should take care of household and men should work all the time.” Go get the recent survey by World Economic Forum and take a closer look on Japan as a starter. Japan is significantly behind many other countries in gender gap survey, even trailing China.

      • http://getironic.blogspot.com/ getironic

        Where there is inequality, does not mean there is necessarily injustice. it just means there are observable group patterns in the choices of individuals.

        That a country differs another country, from the status quo, or desired status quo, does not mean anything is wrong.

        When the “wage gap” is talked about in particular, it operates on the presumption of some malevolent force keeping women down. But if women do indeed make a significant portion less than what men make, the first entrepreneur to employ a large business of only women could have the kind of margins that their competitors only can dream of, simply based on savings on salary.

        Why is that basically nowhere to be found? Maybe because the truth is more complicated than observing “inequality” and then inserting shaming language and political polarization. Look at Norway. They have the most “equal” gender laws there can be, and yet the “50/50″ vision of the country’s feminists goes unrealized. Why didn’t mothers rush with newly “freed” arms into their “career”? I mean, it was the big bad patriarchy holding them back this whole time, wasn’t it? Wasn’t it?

        Or was it that feminists assumed they knew better than the individual women who were making their own choices in their lives. Even under these conditions where women have superior rights to men there was no increase in female participation in traditionally masculine jobs, and little increase in productive economic participation at all.

        People make choices. And sometimes those choices are influenced by gender and culture. And sometimes patterns arise based on those things. It’s not wrong. It just is.

        And yet, under free conditions there is always market response to any real demand. So, if there are so many women with valuable work skills who also really want to have children, then private businesses will on an individual basis, voluntarily offer the kind of contracts conducive to those ends. It is the law in many places, but the practice of “maternity leave” existed prior to any government forcing it onto employers. Nurseries being introduced into a business environment was also a voluntary market response to working mothers.

        Why hasn’t that happened as thoroughly in Japan? Because the labor market is not free. And Masako Mori’s job and masturbatory self-importance is basically dependent on it not being free. So of course she is going to broadcast to everyone how much she is “needed” to help the poor little ladies.

        Mori is not a friend to women who want to work. If she was, she’d be out in front trying to nuke all these government rules and regulations regarding employment that continues these traditions. She’s be out in front of the culture to defend men and the dangers of karoushi and the address the ridiculously high suicide rate. She would proclaim that it’s not men’s burden to carry alone.

        These laws and dutiful cultural artifacts are what constricts the market from adapting to demographic change in labor, not “men”.

      • Toolonggone

        I’m not gonna follow your argument. Inequality becomes present depending on the political choices made by national policymakers. It is government who gives choice to the individuals and private businesses–not vice versa. Inequality becomes visible(and chronic) depending on how the government sets the laws on the sphere of labor and employment based on their political ideology (i.e., oligopoly, corporatism, free market), and becomes prominent depending on the way it affects employees.

        What you call “malevolent force” is male chauvinism which Ms. Mori
        describes as men’s mind-set. It’s not mutually exclusive from social inequality, because this is exactly the dominant ideological force deeply ingrained in Japanese labor laws and socio-political system.

        Also I have trouble understanding what you say “the labor market is not free.” Are you suggesting that Japan should follow the free market principle just like the United States and other European countries? To get out of economic slump!? That’s gonna lead Japan to even more dismal consequence. And Ms. Mori deserves blame for what? Failing to critique the labor market based on “neutral” standpoint?? And that makers her hostile to women??? Kind of “free ideas” in the marketplace you are preaching.

      • http://getironic.blogspot.com/ getironic

        What is **legally** preventing women from working and having a career in Japan?

        What is legally preventing women from having children?

        What is legally preventing women from saving money (before choosing to pursue pregnancy) in order to finance their goal of having children in the future?

        What is legally preventing women from pursuing the same employment position they were pursuing (or had) prior to having children, after they have children?

      • Toolonggone

        Go ahead and preach your idiocy(oh it’s cynicism, right?) until your mouth dries up. Your barrel of chicken or egg questions won’t lead to the conclusion that women are treated equally in the Japanese society.

      • http://getironic.blogspot.com/ getironic

        You are evading the question I asked.

        Cultural treatment and legal treatment are different things.

        You know damn well that women actually have superior legal rights to men here, and that what you advocate is that they have further rights in the form of subsidies that would be denied to men.

        Rights to be rights have to be equal, or they are no longer rights. They become privileges afforded to one group at the expense of another other group. In any other situation, such as in race as opposed to gender, rights like that would be viewed as legalized racism.

        Legal problems are legal problems and cultural problems are cultural problems. If you think there is a cultural problem, the only appropriate way to fight that is by cultural means.

      • Toolonggone

        I don’t have a reason to answer your question anymore. Keep spinning your utopianism in the ‘Galapagos island.’ Your overall argument on gender and social injustice doesn’t hold water. Bye.

      • http://getironic.blogspot.com/ getironic

        Don’t give up so easily now.

        Surely you can demonstrate why it doesn’t hold water.

  • Perogyo

    Such a step forward for the government to realize that an economy with so few taxpayers is completely unfeasible. I hope that many of their ideas work. However, I fail to see real change occurring until there is a shift in the system.

    First, many men work overtime because that is where the bulk of their salary comes from. If they are supporting an unemployed wife and children, they can’t just stop working overtime to spend more time with their family. First, there has to be an increase in income, either from his company increasing wages for the first 40 hours of work, or from his spouse.

    Second, the entire tax system has to be rebuilt from the ground up. Japan cannot rely on men and a few women taxpayers between the ages of 20 and 60 to pay all the taxes and fund all the healthcare and pensions. Women live longer than men by a number of years, but are unlikely to have put anywhere near the amount they receive out of the pension system into it. Japan’s system subsidizes part-time housewives which not only means that they don’t pay tax, but corporations would rather hire two subsidized housewives for whom they don’t have to pay half of the pension/health/tax, as the taxpayers pay it for them. This has had serious implications for unskilled workers who cannot compete with these subsidized part-timers without devaluing their work product to less than the poverty line, resulting in freeters and an increase in the working poor.

    I’m afraid I cannot agree with Mori’s statement that “Women have done enough and, honestly, they do not have to try harder.” Women who run PTA and make other commitments for parents during the working day must ensure that either they change the way these are run so working parents can be involved, or do it for the working parents. The former would be a much better solution- reducing the number of meetings and having them on weekends or evenings, or doing more business via email would be ideal so both working mothers and fathers can get involved and pass on their expertise. But this won’t happen until all people in Japan recognize that working parents are important to the economy and have skills as parents to offer to the community at large. As a working mother myself, I think that will be the biggest barrier, but the most important.

  • natureradiant

    I express solidarity with the noble work.