The Japanese Diet unanimously approved on August 28 the Act of Promotion of Women’s Participation and Advancement in the Workplace, which requires government agencies and private corporations with more than 300 employees to establish and disclose by April 2016 targets for the number of female employees to be hired or promoted to leadership positions. However, there is some skepticism as to whether the law will really increase women’s participation in the workforce because it will not impose penalties on companies that ignore the requirement. Meanwhile, on a positive note, the number of job openings per applicant in Japan has risen to its highest level in 23 years amid growing signs of strength in the job market.
What kind of companies in Japan are eager to hire more female employees? The weekly magazine AERA (11/23) wrote that women with science backgrounds, known as “rikejo” in Japan, are in great demand in the labor market today. According to a survey conducted by a job placement agent in September, 85.2% of female science majors due to graduate next spring have already received job offers. This is 5.3 points higher than the ratio for all students – men and women majoring in science or liberal arts. The weekly wrote that since the number of female science majors is still relatively small in Japan, the competition to hire them is intensifying among companies made aware of the importance of diversity in the workplace on account of the Abe administration’s policy of promoting women’s empowerment. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, for example, will hire three times as many new “rikejo” employees next year as this year. Mitsubishi believes that its tours for future female engineers of the company’s R&D facilities helped attract prospective female employees by providing them with opportunities to observe their potential future workplaces firsthand.
The Women’s Promotion Act requires only companies and public agencies with more than 300 employees to draw up action plans. What about smaller firms? The law only “recommends” that they strive to achieve the goal. However, smaller enterprises are one step ahead of the government initiative. These companies, which are more vulnerable than larger firms, have no choice but to adjust to changing business trends for the sake of survival. Asahi (11/16) reported on the results of its survey of managers of 50 small and medium-sized enterprises across Japan. When asked if female employees are active in their companies, 45 out of the 50 firms said “yes,” while two said “no” and three were “not sure.”
The president of an Osaka-based metal mold company said its female employees are playing key roles in sales and other office operations and that they have revitalized the company, which used to be a lackluster male-dominated workplace, through fresh perspectives and innovative ideas. Citing its bitter experience of losing a female worker due to the company’s failure to provide a better working environment, the manager stressed that there is still a lot that needs to be done to improve the working environment for women, such as adopting flexible work hours and rules against sexual harassment. Several other companies said women’s participation in the workplace comes naturally to them because 40% of their employees are women. A senior writer at Asahi expressed hope that the new law will help achieve a breakthrough in Japan’s rigid male-dominated structures in business, bureaucracy, and politics.