Yet another issue with job hunting

The percentage of university students receiving job offers increased slightly this year. However, one job offer ended in a lawsuit after Nippon Television withdrew its preliminary promise to hire a young woman seeking to become an announcer after it found out she once worked part-time at a Ginza nightclub. The woman decided to sue. The case is a complicated one that highlights problems with Japan’s job-hunting system and its view of female employees.

The TV station argued that the fourth year student’s failure to tell them about briefly working at a nightclub in Ginza amounted to a false claim on her part. However, she argued that it was only part-time for a limited period and reneging on an offer of employment at this point in the job hunting cycle meant she could not find work elsewhere.

The case was worsened by the TV company lawyers’ comments that announcers require a high degree of integrity and honesty, using words that could also mean “clean.” The comments gave the impression that a part-time nightclub job was not “pure,” compared to the high-integrity job of television announcer. That view of television announcers, and of nightclub workers, hinges on a view of women as either tainted or pristine, an out-of-date view that smacks of sexism.

Surely, all companies want to present a squeaky clean image of their employees, but hiring should be based on the ability to perform a job. It is hard to see how a part-time job at a nightclub would disqualify someone from being able to do the job of announcer. Would a potential male employee be scrutinized in the same way? It seems unlikely.

Many companies demand rigid adherence to dress codes, interview standards, and formal behavior and language during job hunting and at work. Those standards have a long tradition, but may no longer fit the current job market nor the difficulties of the current economy.

Companies should be hiring the most talented, ambitious and diligent people they can find. Not all of those people will fit neatly into perfectionistic categories, especially at young ages. The current case shows that the qualification for being hired at some Japanese companies, especially for women, is conformity to a non-transparent code of conduct decided by those at the top.

This young woman’s filing a legal case, however, shows that she has, at the very least, a good deal of courage, assertiveness and determination, qualities most companies should seek in their employees, not reject. Perhaps this student would do better pursuing a career in the law.

The case will work its way through the courts and should focus on the exact nature of a job offer as described in a work contract as well as on the specific rights of employers to terminate agreements. Unfortunately, the case is also about how workers, especially women, are viewed in the workplace and what images of the perfect woman still linger in society.

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