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Will pandemic telework boost women's careers in Japan, S Korea?

20 Comments
By Beh Lih Yi

COVID-19 could be a tipping point in the push to retain more women in the workforce in Japan and South Korea and for them to have families with new flexible work arrangements expected to stay, according to researchers and recruiters.

The pandemic has disproportionately hit women's careers across the globe, with studies finding they are more likely to work in sectors badly impacted by COVID-19 and are picking up a heavier load of unpaid childcare and chores than men.

But in Japan and South Korea, where employees are often under pressure to work long hours in the office with reports of death by overwork, more flexible working could make women rethink leaving jobs to start a family.

"If women are given such choice (of flexible working), they will likely utilize the opportunity," said Kyoko Nagano, a Japanese mother-of-two who has worked in local firms and now runs her own businesses in education and tourism.

"There will be positive impacts. Women will feel safer to have families," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from Tokyo.

Japan and South Korea have been pushing for more women to stay in the workforce in recent years as the two Asian nations struggle with a fast-aging population and low birth rates.

But the gender gap in the workplace remains a challenge in both countries which lag other advanced economies.

Japan is ranked 121 and South Korea 108 out of 153 countries on the World Economic Forum's 2020 Global Gender Gap Index, with both scoring poorly on women's economic participation and political empowerment.

Japan in December adopted a new five-year gender equality plan after failing to reach half of a 30% target of women leaders in politics and business by the end of 2020.

Meanwhile, South Korea has the highest gender wage gap among advanced countries at 32.5% in 2019 - more than double the average for the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development nations.

"Women workers are often held back because of the lack of flexibility in corporate jobs, and the 'time poverty' they face as unpaid care work falls disproportionately on their shoulders," said Anu Madgavkar of the McKinsey Global Institute.

Women would likely benefit from a hybrid work model of splitting workdays between office and home that is set to persist even after the pandemic, added Madgavkar, a partner at the MGI, the research arm of global consultancy firm McKinsey.

"This means women can spend less time commuting and gain more flexibility about how to manage work-related activities alongside care responsibilities," she said.

WORK-LIFE BALANCE

Telework has been slow to catch on in parts of Asia which put a strong emphasis on being present at the office, until the coronavirus has forced companies to rethink traditional offices.

Many Japanese firms had resisted home working in the past, and its intense work culture led to the phenomenon of karoshi, or death by overwork, when employees kill themselves or suffer strokes because of excessive hours.

But about 80% of firms surveyed in Japan said they would continue flexible work after COVID-19, according to a poll of more than 3,000 companies across Asia by recruiting firm RGF Professional Recruitment which showed an "unprecedented shift" in the region.

The move could stop firms from promoting the "traditionally glorified culture of overtime" and put higher emphasis on output than time spent at work that disadvantages women, according to RGF's Japan Managing Director Benjamin Cordier.

"The adjustment has also disrupted how companies evaluate work performance, which may level the playing field for both men and women in the workplace," Cordier added.

In South Korea, COVID-19 saw work culture "changing gradually", with a preference for presenteeism among workers slowly diminishing, said Yuichiro Tsuchiyama, head of JAC Recruitment Korea, a Seoul-based recruiting firm.

More than half of 100 top Korean companies surveyed by the Korea Employers Federation, a major business group, in September said they would expand work-from-home schemes after the pandemic.

In Japan, tech giant Fujitsu, electronics maker Hitachi, and video game firm Square Enix are among firms that have announced they were offering teleworking as a permanent option.

"In Japan, where men have been slow to play a more active role in child rearing and housework, the introduction of flexible working styles has created an environment in which men can do more to contribute," a Fujitsu spokesman said by email.

Remote work, however, can be a mixed blessing.

Heejung Chung, a South Korean expert on work-life balance at Britain's University of Kent, has published studies showing it helped to boost female participation in the workforce.

"Flexible working and the blurring of boundaries can also lead to more work, working all the time and the boundary blurring of work and other spheres of life," Chung said.

Chung called for an overhaul of the long hours work culture, while MGI's Madgavkar said teleworking could only benefit women if it was accompanied by other key organizational shifts.

"Our surveys across Asian employers found that the 'anytime, anywhere' culture is one of the top reasons why women advance more slowly than men – and work from home could exacerbate this," she warned.

© Thomson Reuters Foundation

©2021 GPlusMedia Inc.

20 Comments
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"Working" from home while taking care of a baby, cleaning, cooking, etc. Very productive.

0 ( +5 / -5 )

"Our surveys across Asian employers found that the 'anytime, anywhere' culture is one of the top reasons why women advance more slowly than men – and work from home could exacerbate this," she warned.

Kinda left us hanging there.

Why does an "anytime, anywhere' culture favor men?

0 ( +5 / -5 )

Will pandemic telework boost women's careers in Japan, S Korea?

No, I don’t think so.

7 ( +9 / -2 )

Only if the woman chooses for it to. Why should sex be the determining factor? You can only fake it till you make it for so long.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

They seem to be doing well overseas due to covid, one glance at onlyfans is enough to see that (not that I ever looked).

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

I wonder if any of those thinking it is somehow easy or better working from home and taking care of young children at the same time have ever tried it?

As a single father of two young children at the time I can say it was far more difficult to work at home and have the children home then to have the children in daycare and either work from home or office (actually onsite at clients).

It didn't matter how organised one is young children do not understand and will regularly interrupt your work reducing productivity and often messing with your train of thought.

Oh yes it is far nicer and better if I could just work from home with the children in daycare or school l, closer to pick them up no commuting but in the home while working is not ideal.

Imagine have children running around the office and how that would distract people trying to work.

This is why before in many western countries larger companies had daycare facilities located in the same building as their office, workers could drop the children at the office daycare go to their desk go about their work pick the children up when they leave work.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

Many Japanese firms had resisted home working in the past, and its intense work culture led to the phenomenon of karoshi.....

From personal observation one of the real reasons so many Japanese companies resist is because those running them and the upper management are still living in the old fax, paper, pen, and hanko world.

My wife's company has gone to telework for the most part and this exposed dozens of old guys that still had no idea how to use a simple Excel spreadsheet even less use the network ordering system or much else.

They would still use paper fax etc... Then rely on one of the office ladies to later input the data into the system.

Now many if these guys have been fired, quit, or demoted after telework started, they were given a grace period to learn the system and 21st century way but many refused having some strange idea they could fine a job without needing to learn how to properly use computers and network skills.

Nearly all were replaced by women in many cases the women that were actually doing the work.

-1 ( +3 / -4 )

Why does an "anytime, anywhere' culture favor men?

As a man nearly all my jobs and clients expected that if they called or something came up, that I would drop everything and tend to their needs.

As a single father this was rarely possible and lead to losing jobs and clients.

I suspect that seeing women are more often than not the primary care for children such drop everything sudden change of plans stay late at work would be just likey problems were.

"Sorry boss but the daycare closes at 19:00 I have to pick the children up before then"

Reply was quite often: "then don't bother coming to work tomorrow you are fired"

Even had one boss fire me for leaving work when my son (6 years old at the time) was rushed by ambulance from school to the hospital and rushed into emergency surgery.

She (yes she) said : "his teacher is with him so no need for you to leave early"

So that may answer your question.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

The majority of women in Japan as soon as they get the ring on quit work.

Hobbies, seeing friends, and going out to eat/travel are much more enjoyable.

-1 ( +4 / -5 )

@SandyBeachHeaven

Perhaps in your neighbourhood.

In my east end Tokyo neighbourhood where I have lived for 30 years most of my Japanese friends wives worked at least part time most of my children's classmates parents both worked because that is how the working class live.

My ex-wife's family are in farming and other manual labour work most self employed in the countryside all the women work to support the business.

Not all of Japan is Hiroo, Azabu, etc..

2 ( +4 / -2 )

Working in a global company that considerably open for career advancements of womens and personally supporting equal, even preferable treatment to women in the corporate life.

However, practically, telework experience with our japanese women staff didn't worked out well comparing to other countries, at the end, while there were promotions of womens to the managerial positions in countries like UAE, Turkey, Romania or even in South Africa in this unusual year, (all of them are conservative countries, has problems with the positioning of women within the society) we didn't have any promotion of women staff in Japan this year opposed to last years.

Japanese women at home, was more concentrated on tasks and daily responsibilities, unreachable (no answer to the phones or mails in a timely manner), closed cameras and muted microphones on video conferences, escaping to take a role in any new initiative or project, less desire and ambition to adapt and make a difference in changing times and conditions, and finally considering telework experience as much more a holiday than a real work.

The reason is maybe Japanese society in general, didn't take any remote job seriously without physical existence, or japanese women are under severe pressure whether by their husbands/kids or even by their parents in certain circumstances. However, in the end, it was not a good experience.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

@RickyC

You pretty much nailed it.

The problem is as simple as, if the woman is home husbands, parents even the city expect that this means they are available to take care of the children, cooking, cleaning, shopping, etc... even more than if they have to go to the office.

As a single father getting my children into government daycare was somewhat easy at first because I had a regular job in a company, but once I lost that job and was working from home the city's idea was " well now you are working mostly from home do you really need daycare?"

And even after finally convincing them that despite my work being in my home I still had to go out onsite to clients and they reluctantly let me continue with daycare they did not let me continue past the first pickup time.

I don't know if all city's do this but ours had early and late and only those with full time company jobs could use late pick up which was at the latest 19:00 not a minute later.

So yes I can see why Japanese women especially married with children or living with parents cannot get work done or be available in the same way as if in an office.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

COVID-19 could be a tipping point in the push to retain more women in the workforce in Japan"

Yeah, it 'could ' be but from experience we all know it won,t be. As soon as the Covid crisis is over it will be back to the old ways here.

But about 80% of firms surveyed in Japan said they would continue flexible work after COVID-19

Typical tatemae lip service only ...while a few companies might continue it, majority of the big boy corporations will backtrack on 90 % of it asap..we saw it after the first SOE ended.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

It’s not only a question of gender or bringing possible advantages for women. All people who like to work from home, or alone, or more silently, without having to go out and having stress with the daily commuting and so on, all those may now have a little more participation in ‘their’ era, too. But the effects won’t be so much changing or promising. Do you for example have instead at the office desk or home personal computer, from 9 to 5, most of your creative or scientific theoretical or researching ideas only at home, at night , on the toilet, or ever had? Well, no company will employ you with that capabilities anyway. They will continue to prefer lose-lose-situations by all means.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

"Our surveys across Asian employers found that the 'anytime, anywhere' culture is one of the top reasons why women advance more slowly than men" so you want more flexibility or less?

"In Japan, where men have been slow to play a more active role in child rearing and housework, the introduction of flexible working styles has created an environment in which men can do more to contribute," you know you can talk to you significant other to work things out... Who was taking care of the child before? It's not covid or teleworking that is forcing this, it's cultural norms which you yourself have control over.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

One of the biggest problems with working from home in Japan and much of Asia is space.

I live in a house not an apartment, at the present time I have 2 young adult children that recently graduated from university both living at home and as is the case with many new employees here and elsewhere is they are paid low for the first few years, so getting an apartment and paying off student loans at the same time is not the best choice.

So 4 adults all working from home now asy wife's company has permanently gone to telework, means a very cramped situation, living and working in bedrooms because few Japanese homes have space for a home office even fewer 2, 3 or 4.

Those with young children will have to somehow find a place for a desk probably in their bedroom and somehow keep the children from disturbing them, if both parents work from home who get the bedroom who gets the kitchen table.

I am a manual worker an artisan I repair broken things make a lot of noise with power tools, hammer, etc... I have to stop working everytime my wife or children are on zoom or conference calls.

Unfortunately home office is not a practical thing for most families in Japan.

I have Japanese male friends that are now doing it and at first they thought it was great but after 6 months they are tired, tired of working in the bedroom or kitchen table, tired of having to keep telling the children to leave, be quiet, etc...in some cases tired of trying to explain to their wives and parents just because they are home doesn't mean they can go out drive them to the store, etc...

The women my wife works with are having similar problems due to space, children, husbands and parents.

In North America my brother was able to create 2 home office's in in basement, my sister was able to do the same.

And no the solution is not for people to move out into nowhere in the countryside that brings up needing to drive everywhere and drive the children everywhere which again interrupts the work day.

In Tokyo I know few people that have a car and many that don't even have a drivers license, my friends form outside Tokyo in places like Ibaraki, etc... All have multiple cars a main car/van and at least one Kei car if not one each for those of driving age, not a good choice.

Don't know the solution but there are the problems.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

In SK, probably. In Japan, no way — they’ll find new ways to keep women down and stay near dead last out of 140 countries in gender equality.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Interesting, I hadn’t considered this.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

As a man nearly all my jobs and clients expected that if they called or something came up, that I would drop everything and tend to their needs.

That's the problem there. Clients have been trained to expect free work. Our company offers 24-hour telephone support and on-call emergency work as well but clients pay a premium for this service - we can hire two staff with the income with the premium service who work on-call from their homes at times. It really depends on the leadership strategy.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

@Osaka_Doug

I was always properly compensated and much of my work then and now is not possible to do by phone or remotely.

The point I was making is someone with children, (in my case a single father) they cannot just drop everything and head out or even do work remotely in many cases.

With the fact in Japanese families women do most of the care for children and house even married women are in a position that does not let them just drop everything and focus on work at the drop of a hat.

Many of my male friends now working from home are finding it difficult with children and wives also now working from home, small houses, noise, etc... Not to mention that some have been told because both parents are now working from home they no long qualify for city daycare service and cannot afford private daycare.

So we have again bthe strange conflicting messages from the governments, one says more flex time, more telework, the other says well if you have flex time, work from home then we will remove services like daycare and after school care.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

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