Diet passes bill aimed at boosting women in the workplace


Staff Writer

The Diet passed a bill Friday aiming to promote the role of women in the workplace, along with greater female participation in the economy at a time when the country’s population is expected to shrink further.

The law will oblige companies with 301 or more employees, along with central and local governments, to set numerical targets for the employment and promotion of women. They will also have to disclose this information to the public. Smaller companies will only be required to make efforts to do so.

But the law, which will take effect April 1, does not stipulate mandatory numerical targets, meaning that companies can set their goals after analyzing their current situation.

There are no penalties even if they fail to reach their goals. Instead, those that make great strides in hiring and promoting women will be given preferential treatment in contracts for public works.

Observers welcomed the passage of the bill, saying it could boost companies’ efforts to create more female-friendly environments and change the male-dominanted work culture.

However, they said many issues still remain for realizing a society where more women can use their potential talents.

“The law may be a little step, but quite an important one (to promote women in the workplace),” said Mari Miura, a professor of gender and politics at Sophia University.

Although there are no penalties or mandatory numerical targets, the required disclosure of plans meant a company’s public image could be damaged if they failed, Miura said.

Disclosure of information will also likely change the way female students look for jobs, Miura said, as they can choose employers providing better working environments by comparing each company’s action plans.

Those failing to make serious efforts may not be able to employ top-notch female students, which will be crucial given the country’s shrinking population, she said.

“From management perspectives, companies that can not hire excellent female students will not have a promising future,” Miura said.

According to the Japan Institute for Labor Policy and Training, the percentage of women in management positions in 2013 stood at around 11 percent, while the percentage in the U.S., U.K., France and Sweden was between 30 percent and 40 percent.

The figure is also falls way short of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s goal of 30 percent by 2020.

Meanwhile, Yasuko Oshima, a senior economist at Mizuho Research Institute Ltd., said the bill should have included minimum numerical targets that companies should aim for, in accordance with their size and industry.

Without such requirements, they may set numerical targets that can be easily achieved rather than risking failure with ambitious goals, she said.

“Lack of such minimum targets could weaken effectiveness of the law,” Oshima said.

Observers also said Japan’s long-held corporate culture of long working hours must change in order to realize Abe’s much-touted society “where all women can shine.”

Due to Japan’s corporate culture where people who work long hours tend to get promoted, women often have no choice but to quit jobs when they have a child, they said.

According to a National Institute of Population and Social Security Research 2010 study, around 60 percent of women quit work following the birth of their first child between 1985 and 2009.

“The mindset of men is changing, and there are many men who want to participate more in raising their kids. But (Japan’s corporate culture) won’t let them do so,” Miura said.

“I believe the bottleneck is due to the male top leaders’ way of thinking. Many of them are still hung up with outdated ideas that men should be the ones who earn a living. That should be changed.”

  • Tim Johnston

    Woman deserve as much respect as men. I have always thought woman were smarter than men in most situations, So to isolate them and discriminate against them and not use their skills until the 21st century has always baffled most other developed countries.

    With Japan finally changing and the Mafia beginning to fade into the dust. can we see the isolation of Japan joining the 21st century?

    Hopefully,Laws and politicians that actually make sense with all the purity you would expect based on the kindness of the Japanese people and not the robotic world in which it has been portrayed through the sexist grumpy chauvanistic male up until now.

    Freedom of thought and speech. With individuality and ideas with each individual able to express their own opinions and not live in fear of sexism, hiearachy and fear of what the peers might think.

    Woman have always deserved equal rights and am happy finally woman can strive to demand respect as equals in Japan.

    The time has a cometh!

    • Ine Chan

      Totally agree with you ! I still fear that we will have to wait at least 20 years or so before the real changes happen :( still the leaders of this country are the same old chauvinists with the same ideas. I understand keeping tradition and culture is important for most people , but it’s not an excuse for trying to put women and men (who want to spend time with their family) down. I wish all the women in Japan were less quiet and would stand more for their rights.
      If companies do not make efforts , they will regret it, what goes around comes around !
      Anyway let’s hope for the best !

  • Michele Marcolin

    Wow! Amazing… more tea and photocopies for everybody?

  • claragain

    Great news! Japan can finally develop an awesome culture like the US and the UK. It is so sad that Japanese children are not raised by professional childcare and still depend on their unsophisticated mothers. And married couples will be able to relate to each other much better when both parents get to work out of the home to support their standard of living. /sarc

  • Jonelle Patrick

    Let’s see…let the companies set their own targets and send out self-congratulatory press releases about how woman-friendly they are, fail to even attempt to make targets, conveniently fail to publicize not even coming close to targets, government imposes no punishments for failure to hire and promote more women. That’ll work.

  • Richard Solomon

    Who does the Diet think it is kidding?!? Without numerical requirements or penalties for failure to make substantial gains in the number of women executives this new law is nibbling around the edges, at best. More honestly, it is a self serving piece of public relations propaganda that Abe can point to to claim he wants more women in the workforce. There is no way that this kind of law will lead to the 30% threshold by 2020 that Abe has announced.

    If he were serious, Abe would require the ministries in the government to double their number of women execs in the next 3 years. The men awaiting promotions would complain. Would the LDP refuse to elect Abe as its President? Then Japan would get a new PM who might refocus it on economic and social issues instead of collective self defense. Gee, that would be terrible :-) :-)

  • Ron NJ

    You can’t legislate social and cultural change.

    • Id

      You could not be more wrong.

      Legislation is what got women around the world to get voting rights. Legislation is what got slavery to end in every civilized country.
      Llegislation is what makes death threats not an accepted way of communicating.

      The list goes on.

      Legislation is just what will take the countries that are late to the party, wherever you like it or not.

      You cannot expect changes to always happen naturally, especially when it comes to companies. Companies will always want to make more money by changing as little as possible, so nothing to expect from them expect follow the law, that must be tough for them.

      In Japan’s case however, the legislation that just passed is not aiming high enough, and there is basically no enforcement.

      So it will be all for nothing, just some people moving around and reports being written without any deep change anywhere.