TOKYO (TV Asahi/CNN) – The government is now reaching out to an underutilized demographic – highly skilled mothers.
In Japan, with its aging population and shrinking birthrate, increased female participation in the workforce, or womeonmics as it’s been dubbed, matters.
In April Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made womenomics key to his future growth strategy, making proposals around tax incentives for working mothers, better daycare and an increase in female representation on executive boards.
The employment gap is large between Japanese men, which is 80% plus, and Japanese women, which is still around 60%.
“If you were to close that gap, we estimate you’d add about 8.2 million workers into the Japanese workforce which, that alone without making any assumptions about productivity could lift the asset level of Japanese gap by as much as 14 percentage points,” Kathy Matsui of Goldman Sachs said.
Babies in arms and business meetings are not your usual combination, certainly not in Japan.
Yushi Katayama founded Hatch – a co-working space turned nursery – to provide mothers with a working environment that works for them.
“If you really need to concentrate you can tell other parents, ‘Look – I really want to work today. Would you mind looking after the kids more,’ and … it’s a reciprocal system,” Yushi Katayama said.
Yushi’s wife Minhee, who’s a freelance graphic designer, says work dried up for her after she had her son but not because she felt any less able to cope.
“Japan has this perception in its culture that women with children cannot work,” she said. “So when I got a child, I got less work commissioned.”
This is why so many highly educated women quit the workforce, not because of childcare issues, which is the primary reason in the US or Germany, but because their opportunities drastically diminish.
Naoko Toyoda left the job she’d had in an it firm a few months after she returned from maternity leave.
“I used to have about ten staff working under me, but once you move into flexible working hours, there’s a rule that you get demoted to the same level as the new starters,” she said.
But even companies exhibiting best practice by Japanese standards, like international cosmetics giant Shiseido, admit they have a long way to go.
“The female leader ratio in Japan Shiseido group, representing 25,000 employees overall in Japan, the female leader ratio in Japan is still 25.6% ,whereas female leader ratio overseas where we have 20,000 employees, overall we’ve got a female leader ratio of almost 60%” Shigeto Ohtsuki, human resources executive director of Shiseido, said.