Kobe – Efforts by the Japan Coast Guard to provide a workplace friendlier to women are paying off, with the number of female maritime safety officers more than doubling over the past decade.
The JCG divides the country into 11 regions for its operations, employing some 14,000 workers in total. The recruitment of women started in 1979, and as of April, the JCG had 1,066 female personnel, or 7.4 percent of its total workforce, up from 487 in 2010.
In 2015, the JCG adopted a target of raising the share of new female staff to 20 percent.
New JCG members, while receiving wages, study either at the Japan Coast Guard Academy for four and a half years to become senior officers or at the Japan Coast Guard School, a one- to two-year institution to educate experts for specific fields.
In the current fiscal year, 11 women enrolled at the academy and 32 at the school, accounting for 20 percent and 11.3 percent of new starters, respectively.
The JCG imposes no gender-based limits on its operations, ranging from maritime traffic control to administrative work. It had 31 women in senior roles as of July last year, while female ship captains and aircraft pilots numbered five and six, respectively, in June this year. The numbers are expected to keep increasing.
JCG patrol boats sometimes go to sea for up to two weeks. In the past, the shared use of bathrooms on the vessels discouraged women from joining the organization.
Starting with orders for new vessels in 1990, the JCG has been making living conditions on the boats friendlier to female personnel, with moves such as creating sleeping rooms and bathrooms for them and even lowering the height of washstand mirrors. Of some 380 patrol boats, 75 percent now have sleeping rooms for female members.
The JCG has also made child care leave more accessible, and 120 male and female personnel used its child care program in fiscal 2019, which ended in March.
“Thanks to the system, we can take leave and return to work at ease,” said Miki Matsumoto, a 29-year-old mother of two working in the welfare section of the JCG’s Fifth Regional Headquarters in Kobe, Hyogo Prefecture. She has taken such leave twice and now works a reduced schedule, allowing her to leave work early to care for her children.
The greater presence of female personnel “has contributed to an increase in the number of personnel who take child care leave and the prevention of harassment because of changes in the consciousness of male members,” an official in the personnel department of the JCG said. “It has also enabled us to incorporate diversified opinions into our policies.”
But the rate of turnover is higher for female personnel, as it seen as more difficult for women to work and raise children at the same time.
“It will be difficult to promote active participation in work by women unless a work-life balance is achieved for both men and women,” the official said.
The JCG therefore will strive to become a “worker-friendly workplace” through personnel management and other measures such as greater access to child care leave and the avoidance of transfers without family, the official said.