Itochu Corp. published a birthrate among its employees as an index for promoting women’s participation and advancement in the workplace, stirring controversy within the company and on social media.


The major trading house said in April that the company’s total fertility rate–the average number of children a woman is expected to give birth to in her lifetime–was 1.97 in the business year through March, well above Japan’s total fertility rate of 1.33 in 2020.


Itochu officials said the fertility rate rose after the company provided support to help employees raise children while continuing their careers.


They said the figure serves as an important index for promoting women’s participation and advancement in the workplace in the future.


“It is a matter of personal choice whether someone has a child,” said an Itochu employee in her 30s, who is single. “I will not decide whether to have children after seeing what (support) programs are available at a company.”


Another employee, who is raising a child, said she feels something is wrong if the company emphasizes the fertility rate as one of its achievements when the decision to give birth depends on employees’ choices, luck and family circumstances.


Some said on social media the fertility rate shows the company’s worker-friendliness and serves as a useful reference for students and other job-seekers.

Others were critical, however.


One said it felt like women are expected to give birth, even though some people cannot have children and some choose not to. Another raised questions about private matters being discussed as if they are business goals.


Itochu calculated the fertility rate among its female employees aged 49 or younger who reported the birth of a child to the company.


“The fertility rate is only one of our statistical indexes,” a company representative said. “It doesn’t mean we have a specific target we are pursuing.”


The representative added, “Many people have the impression that employees of trading houses are busy, but we wanted to send out a message that those who want children are able to have them (while working here).”


Renge Jibu, an associate professor at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, who is well-versed in gender issues, said the decision to have children involves human rights, and due attention must be paid.


She said the disclosure could give employees the idea the company believes having children is desirable.


“It’s no problem if the fertility rate is only referenced by management and the human resources department to promote measures to help employees balance career and family, but things take a different turn when it is published or shared within the company,” Jibu said.


The total fertility rate, along with the ratio of female managers and other information, was included in Itochu’s report on the progress of the promotion of women’s participation and advancement in the workplace and its future efforts. It was the first time the company has publicized the rate.