Top talent turn part-timers after childbirth

by Tomoko Arima

Kyodo

Many women quit professional-level jobs when starting families, only to find it extremely difficult to return to similar work later on. Through staffing companies, however, opportunities are expanding — albeit as part-timers — as small and midsize firms hire such mothers for their expertise.

“Here I get to do interesting work involving management. It’s almost the ideal job,” said 45-year-old Masako Tanaka, who works three days a week from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Tokyo-based IT venture Whiteplus Inc.

Tanaka’s previous job was also in the information technology industry. When she first returned to work after her daughter, now 7, was born, she landed a managerial position and was in charge of operations and project planning for mobile phone websites.

However, that job required long working hours that forced her to return home late, and her young daughter often ended up going to bed around 11 p.m. Soon she realized the limits of such a work-focused, unbalanced lifestyle and decided to change jobs. Last spring, just as her daughter entered elementary school, Tanaka found her current position.

Whiteplus President Takayuki Inoshita said, “We entrust her with the task of analyzing customer data, the kind of work done by our executives.”

Inoshita, 31, in particular praised Tanaka for her valuable advice regarding recruitment, based on her past experience in managing a team of 60 subordinates. “She is my right-hand woman,” he said.

Tanaka found her current job through the Shufu Job Executive system operated by b-style Inc., a staffing service agency headquartered in Tokyo. “Shufu” means housewife in Japanese. Women who used to have professional or administrative careers with annual incomes of ¥5 million or more are dispatched under the system at higher-than-average hourly wages.

“Even for short (working) hours, demand for capable talent is high among small and midsize companies,” a b-style official said.

Smaller businesses, which often find it hard to employ top talent as the best brains tend to be attracted to major corporations, benefit by hiring experienced professionals at relatively lower labor costs through the system.

Like Tanaka, Naomi Iijima, a 38-year-old mother of two, is also back in the workforce in a meaningful part-time position, making use of the expertise she accumulated at previous jobs.

Under a project run by Tokyo-based staffing agency Pasona Inc. to match talented personnel with small and midsize enterprises, Iijima joined Coccoto, an event planning company in the city of Saitama. She first spent four months there as an intern, working five hours a day four times a week, before switching to direct employment from January.

“If I went full throttle, I probably wouldn’t be able to hold up,” she recalled thinking to herself of the burden of working full time while caring for two young children. Working shorter hours was an opportunity to “warm up,” she said.

Iijima now works three days a week at Coccoto as a part-timer, making use of skills in data analysis that she accumulated in previous jobs, including at a major electrical machinery manufacturer.

Coccoto’s 38-year-old president, Naomi Miyamoto, said her employees learn a lot from Iijima.

Pasona’s approach is unique in that women seeking jobs after having once quit their careers for childbirth or other reasons are first referred to companies as interns. On-the-job training helps clear up any uncertainties the women may have about returning to work, while enabling the companies to determine whether to hire them.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration appears keen to improve female workforce participation, promoting measures such as increasing the number of day-care facilities. Yet part-time jobs that make it relatively easier to balance the demands of work and parenting tend mostly to be in occupations such as sales and data input operations, which seldom utilize the expertise that many professional women have acquired.

If women return to work, even as part-timers, and are given central roles and responsibilities in the company, they can continue to add to their expertise through their jobs. Then, once their children grow older and the demands from child-raising lessen, they will be able to seize opportunities to engage in even more important tasks or gain promotions.

One thing, however, that both Tanaka and Iijima noted was that they are able to attain their current jobs because they worked hard before giving birth. In other words, women hoping to have broader chances when returning to the workforce down the road must first maximize their expertise and skills before quitting.