• Kyodo, Staff Report

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More than 30 percent of women in Japan are worried about how they will be viewed by their bosses as well as by colleagues at work when taking maternity leave, a survey showed Thursday.

The finding by 1 More Baby Oendan (cheering squad), a foundation that provides information on raising children, comes at a time when the nation is grappling with a declining birthrate and shrinking population. The annual number of newborns fell below the 1 million mark for the first time last year.

“It is necessary to create an environment where people can choose various ways of working,” said Kai Akiyama, executive director of the foundation.

In the survey conducted in April, which included an online multiple choice questionnaire, 529 working mothers aged between 20 and 39 were asked what worries them most about taking maternity or child care leave.

The reaction of their bosses was the top concern, cited by 37.6 percent, followed by how they will be viewed by colleagues at 32.4 percent. About 30 percent also cited an atmosphere in the office that discourages taking child care leave more than once.

The annual survey, which began in 2013, also asked for the first time whether the nation is moving toward a society that offers a favorable environment for having and raising children. Over 70 percent of women answered that they do not think so.

“Even though the government, municipalities and companies are calling for work-style reform and taking steps to alleviate child care shortages, those who are raising children are not feeling the change,” Akiyama said.

On the topic of taking child care leave, respondents said companies would ideally help with major concerns — 42.3 percent wanted to feel they would not face problems securing day care slots. That response was followed by 37.9 percent citing feeling they can extend child care leave if they cannot secure a day care slot while 32.7 percent wanted not to fear a negative impact on their career when they return from such leave.

Citing difficulties in managing work-life balance, 82.3 percent would like more flexible working arrangements, such as being able to work from home or shorter hours.

As for factors respondents viewed as important when working from home, 33.0 percent cited the use of day care centers, 26.1 percent their bosses or colleagues being cooperative with the arrangement and 22.4 percent seeking an atmosphere that encourages telecommuting.

“It is important to create a system where everyone has the choice of flexible working hours and location during the different stages of life so that they can continue working,” Akiyama said. Under current law, mothers can leave work for a combined period of 14 weeks before and after delivery and may take child care leave until their babies turn 1, which could be extended for such reasons as failure to secure day care services.

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