(Sankei: November 15, 2015 – p. 2)
Despite all the talk about creating work environments where women raising children can thrive, understanding at the workplace is not keeping pace.
Maternity harassment is the dismissal, demotion, or other disadvantageous treatment of female employees for the reason of pregnancy or childbearing. Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare recently conducted its first survey on maternity harassment, and it revealed a serious situation.
Among those surveyed, almost 50% of dispatched workers and about 20% of regular employees said they have experienced maternity harassment at the workplace.
Women reporting “dismissal” or “unfair termination” were each over 20%, while those citing “unfair calculation of bonuses” or “pressure to resign or become non-regular employees” were also each almost 20%.
The most common form of maternity harassment found in this survey, which allowed multiple responses, was words and actions of superiors that imposed psychological pressure, such as comments like “You’re a nuisance.” Almost 50% of women surveyed said they had been subjected to such harassment.
Although one might think that the belief that maternity harassment is unacceptable is already commonly accepted in Japan, this is not actually the case. A radical reform of awareness is required in the workplace and throughout Japanese society as a whole.
Dismissal, demotion, and pay cuts due to pregnancy or childbearing are forbidden by law as are disadvantageous performance reviews and changes in job assignments due to the use of programs for childcare leave or shorter work hours.
Last October, the Supreme Court issued a decision that without the free consent of the woman in question, “disadvantageous treatment, such as demotion, for the reason of pregnancy is illegal in principle.”
Asked about their harassers, almost 20% – the largest group – said their “direct male superiors” had harassed them, while a substantial percentage cited “direct female superiors” or “female colleagues or subordinates.”
Some workplaces are probably facing constraints in terms of staffing, and it is not easy to find a replacement if an employee takes leave for pregnancy or childbearing. Sometimes other employees are burdened as a result.
If women with work experience quit, however, it is a major loss to the company that trained them. Without doubt, workplaces where women can thrive while raising children are workplaces where everyone can thrive. This is very beneficial for companies. We would like to see executives and managers strive to improve their daily workplace environments based on that kind of thinking.
The “active participation of women” has been identified as a key part of Japan’s growth strategy. The M-curve – which shows a dramatic dip in women’s labor participation rate when they leave the workforce at time of marriage and/or childbirth – illustrates a major issue for women’s employment. We would like to see Japan seriously consider how maternity harassment aggravates this situation.