Chihiro Nishijima’s cellphone rang one evening last May when she was away from Tokyo on a business trip.
It was from the day care center in Tokyo where her 1-year-old son was. They told her he had developed a fever and they needed her to come and pick him up.
Nishijima asked one of her friends to take care of him as well as her 6-year-old daughter until 10 p.m., as her husband was also away on a business trip.
Nishijima, 36, an employee at Sony Life Insurance Co., was preparing to go back to work full-time after giving birth to her son.
“Sometimes I feel nervous, but (my life is) fulfilling. I’m starting to feel like dedicating myself more to work,” said Nishijima. She resumed working full-time last October.
The number of women who choose to continue their career after taking child care leave has increased, mainly at major companies. In 2007, over 80 percent of working women took child care leave.
In 2010, shorter working hours were brought in for employees with children under the age of 3. Some companies apply the system for employees with children over 3, although it is not a legal requirement to do so.
Despite these efforts, female workers on the “mommy track” — work arrangements that facilitate being a mother — still face difficulties in engaging in responsible work while taking extended child care leave or working shorter hours.
Experts say their bosses and colleagues may see them as being short on ambition, while the female employees themselves may lose the motivation to work.
Akiko Kokubo, a lecturer at the University of Shizuoka, said it is not desirable for female employees to work reduced hours without setting a time frame to return to full-time status.
“If you know when you are planning to resume working full-time, your boss can assign you with important tasks in advance. Never forget to tell your plan (to your boss),” Kokubo said.
Nishijima joined Sony Life Insurance in 2003 and began to work shorter hours in October 2010 after her daughter’s birth.
She initially had difficulties in balancing work and child care. She recalled wondering, “What should I do to be able to work longer hours?”
Gradually, however, she learned how to use her time efficiently while utilizing a support system offered by a local municipality.
The company allows its employees to reduce working hours until their children are in the third grade, but Nishijima resumed working full-time just before her son was 18 months old.
Now she is helping to create a better working environment for the company’s female employees in sales positions nationwide.
“When I was working shorter hours, I was adjusting the amount of work I take. Now I try to achieve results . . . although I can’t work overtime or go on an overnight business trip,” Nishijima said.
Some women choose to keep working full-time even after having children.
After she had a son in 2011 and a daughter in 2014, Mika Okano, 34, an employee at Nestle Japan Ltd., resumed working as a full-time employee as her company allows her to go straight home after meeting with customers.
Although Okano does not work extra hours, her experience of child rearing has had a positive effect on managing time and dealing with customers, and her business performance has improved.
Okano acknowledges it is hard to juggle children and jobs, and some women inevitably choose to work shorter hours. “But shouldn’t we have another look at husbands working long hours?” she said.