/

1 in 6 women in Japan suffer workplace discrimination over pregnancy: survey

Kyodo

One in six working, pregnant women experienced discrimination, harassment or insensitivity because of it, research by a life insurance company showed Wednesday.

An online survey in June by IRRC Corp. of 500 women aged 20 to 40 found that 16 percent reported harassment from colleagues or bosses regarding their pregnancy, including remarks implying they should be dismissed.

When asked about their working environment, with multiple answers allowed, 43 percent said they were given no consideration such as exemption from hard work, and more than half said they continued to work over eight hours a day.

The results contradict efforts by the government to eradicate what is known in Japan as “maternity harassment” as part of its measures to empower women. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has touted championing the female sector of the workforce as one pillar of his economic growth strategy.

Of the respondents, 52 percent were in full-time work when they became pregnant, while 33 percent were part timers, 8 percent were temporary staffers and 7 percent were contract employees.

On how they were harassed, with multiple answers allowed, 41 percent said they were talked to about being dismissed, followed by 30 percent who said they were spoken to inconsiderately and 13 percent saying they were assigned hard work or duties that had to be carried out while standing. Some responded that they were demoted or transferred.

Respondents cited colleagues or bosses as telling them it was burdensome to work with a woman expecting a baby, or that they should work as normal because morning sickness is not an illness. Some also reported people smoking nearby.

Kyoko Niimura, a lawyer specializing in maternity harassment cases said that women often fail to notice when they are victims of harassment and feel compelled to accept the situation.

Though only 16 percent said they had experienced harassment after becoming a parent, it is likely there are more cases in the workplace, she said.

“To prevent bullying and harassment, companies should establish and adopt policies in line with legal regulations related to bullying and harassment like those addressing sexual harassment,” she said.

She also suggested that firms should introduce consultation service and training sessions aimed at raising employees’ awareness of the issue and understanding of female workers’ needs.

She pointed out that many firms still refuse to renew contracts allowing female workers to return to the workplace after childbirth.

But since men, too, bear responsibilities for child care and elder care, she said, there is a need for greater flexibility for workers across the board.