Corporate Japan pursues to step up women’s growth drive

Katherine Yearwood

Recently, Japan introduced a bill aimed at securing more women into their corporate world. Despite the new bill, many say it will likely still be difficult for women to flourish in the workplace due to the country’s social structure and defined gender roles.

Director of Suffolk University’s Rosenberg Institute of East Asian Studies and History Professor Ronald Suleski described in an interview with The Journal Japan’s polar spectrums and has little faith in the system.

“There are two environments in Japan. One is what the law says and the other is the reality,” said Suleski.

While there are laws that are aimed at promoting gender equality among Japanese citizens, these laws are not always completely effective or enforced, according to Suleski. He said that women may get the job, but will be assigned duties that are less than a man’s opportunities, which give them less of a chance to be promoted.

Suleski explained the traditional work that women would have in an office would sometimes be preparing refreshments and tea for the male guests that would be visiting the office to meet with the male supervisors.

Within the past 20 to 30 years, Japan has enacted a number of laws all aimed at empowering women in the workplace. However, it has been reported that these laws are not enforced.

“If you look at the law, the law paints a very different picture,” said Suleski. “It paints a picture of giving women more opportunity for advancement to be treated in a more proper way equal to men, but the law is in the books but it’s often not followed.”

In Japan there are different factors at play as to why women generally have yet to be viewed as equals to their male counterparts. Suffolk University Communications and Journalism Professor Bruce Wickelgren believes the country is paternalistic.

“It follows a masculine way of understanding, it believes that the man is the breadwinner and that a woman’s job is to serve men. Obviously Japan is not alone in this,” said Wickelgren. “We have that in the United States, but we like to pretend that it’s not as strong as it is in Japan, and perhaps to a certain extent it’s not, but it is similar across both cultures.”

The economy in Japan has made it harder for many people to get by and this can have even harsher effects on women over a certain age range.

“Japan I think is a very conservative society,” said Suleski.

He explained that Japanese companies will advertise that they are looking for a female secretary, but has to be between 25 to 30 years old.

“If you’re over 30, don’t apply. They say it very clearly,” said Suleski.

Japan’s culture largely circles around tradition and when it’s not followed, that can bring about tension and conflict.

“There’s a traditional role of the Japanese woman,” said Suleski. “She’s quiet, she’s polite, she serves her husband, her children, her family, and that makes the country strong.”

This traditional role may affect many women in Japan when it comes to how they perceive themselves and how they should operate in society.

“There needs to be a representation of a greater thing before real change can take place and a matter of fact most of the time it can be generations before those kind of change actually happen,” said Wickelgren.

While many of the older women have accepted the customary role of women and some may even like this, there are many young women who want gender equality and less restrictive roles imposed on them.

“I don’t think that anything can lead to gender equality,” said Wickelgren. “I don’t think that the concept of equality is something that is possible. I think that there are ways that a culture can create better access to more things. A law is only as good as the people who are willing to pay attention to it, but is it a start? I believe that we have to start somewhere in a culture.”