Out of the Japanese kitchen

When Junichiro Koizumi, Japan’s prime minister, appointed five women to his cabinet in 2001, he was making history by creating his country’s most female government ever. Whether the corporate world follows suit is another matter.

This second volume of Babies and Bosses finds that if Japan wants to improve its work and care balance, it needs to make the workplace more hospitable to women. And doing so could improve company earnings too.

While the overall female employment rate is comparable to OECD averages at just below 60%, the comparison falters when examined in light of family commitments. Babies and Bosses shows that in Japan the overwhelming trend in the workforce is for married women to stop work at the birth of their first child; only 25% of mothers with a child under three are in work, compared to 32% in Austria and 45% in Ireland, the other two countries studied in the report.

Part of the problem is a lack of status in the workplace. Over 70% of all Japanese workers are “regular” employees who have a long-term relationship with their employer, and receive in-house training and family allowances. Of these, over 85% are male. By contrast, “non-regular” employees are often paid by the hour, at minimum wage, and frequently work less than 35 hours per week. These workers have limited career prospects. And they are predominantly female.

Yet, as Babies and Bosses shows, Japanese women are more likely than men to have completed secondary education. The fact that so many well-educated women are not in employment or are in poor jobs reflects a loss of investment. The Mainichi Shimbun, a Japanese daily newspaper, cites a recent government study finding that if the ratio of women employees increased by 10%, profits would rise by 0.2 points. Hiring more women clearly pays.

©OECD Observer No 239, September 2003




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