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Four frustrating attitudes women in Japan run into when interviewing for jobs, grouped by age

16 Comments
By Casey Baseel, SoraNews24

The competitive nature of job hunting can be stressful for anyone, but there’s an especially trying aspect of looking for employment that women often face in Japan. While social norms are gradually changing, women still take on the majority of child rearing and other domestic duties in Japanese households, and it’s not unheard of for some to leave the workforce entirely after getting married or having children.

So although more Japanese women than ever before are continuing to work throughout adulthood, even after marriage or childbirth (which are also two things many Japanese women are choosing to pass on altogether), many companies are still leery of hiring female applicants, especially for high-ranking, high-responsibility openings. Working less prestigious positions, though, results in a less confidence-inspiring resume, and 35-year-old Japanese professional, wife, mother, and Twitter user @yomimama0908 has compiled a frustrating list of the myriad, though equally frustrating, reactions she feels women should brace for when applying for jobs at various ages in Japan.

Things women hear when trying to change jobs:

Age 23-26: “You don’t have enough professional experience for this position.”

Age 27-30: “So, are you married? Hmm…so will you be taking maternity leave soon?”

Age 31-35: “Ah, so you have young children. Are they still little? I see…”

Age 36 and above: “You’re already this old, but you don’t have much work experience, so we can’t really offer you a position…”

“So just what age are you supposed to look for a new job at?” asks @yomimama0908 in exasperation. “Companies’ way of thinking is entirely too narrow-minded,” she concludes, and many online commenters agreed with her. “When you go to an interview, they ask way more about your kids than they do about you,” shared one commenter. “And if you’re in your 50s, they’ll ask ‘Is you eyesight OK? At your last physical, did the doctor find any medical problems?’” added another.

Making things especially difficult is that Japan has no nationwide law against asking job-seekers how old they are, and most application forms require your birthdate as a matter of course, lumping a blank space for it right next to other standardly requested information as your name, email/phone contact information, and mailing address.

If there’s a sliver of hope for those facing the reactions that @yomimama0908 has run into, it’s that at least some Japanese politicians have begun taking the stance that questions about age, marital aspirations, and baby-making plans shouldn’t be asked during a job interview. But again, that’s still not a national law, and it’s likely women will continue to receive such queries, even as @yomimama0908 says she hopes that by the time her currently 3-year-old son joins the workforce, his female coworkers will no longer have to deal with the frustrations she lays out in her tweet.

Source: Twitter/@yomimama0908 via Hachima Kiko

Read more stories from SoraNews24.

-- Nearly half of young Japanese women say they “hate” the company they work for in survey

-- Japanese mothers react to being called by their first names after years of just being “Mama”

-- Foreigners in Japan sound off on the top four quirks of the Japanese job-hunting system

© SiraNews24

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.

16 Comments
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Japan has no nationwide law against asking job-seekers how old they are

The does no wrong crowd is suspiciously silent.

0 ( +6 / -6 )

On the other hand my late 30's female coworker was promoted to manager and assigned several large cases then proceeded to take maternity leave the last 18 months during which her cases were dumped in me and another guy. So the burden is placed on strangers at work more than on her husband.

-5 ( +7 / -12 )

Misogyny under another name. So foreigners are the lesser evil to employ.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

I don't think asking someone their age, or expecting an applicant to state their age, is actually illegal in most countries. It's what you do with that information as an employer that counts. Do you discriminate against a job applicant on that basis? Then in most developed countries, you are in breach of the laws against discrimination.

As far as the "Things women hear when trying to change jobs" thing is concerned, the 23-26 year old one may well be valid, depending obviously on the job a person is applying for. From my experience in recruitment, many people (women and men) overestimate their experience, or fail to take into account just who they may be up against for a job (i.e. more experienced candidates).

The 27-35 questions are just discriminatory, and should never be asked or considered as criteria by employers. Employers should assume that if a woman is applying for a job, then she's considered all those issues and is able to work without there being a problem.

As for the over-35s, you have to be practical and not apply for jobs that require experience that you don't have. But when experience isn't required, I hope that ageism in Japan isn't so widespread as to include people in their 30s. Why, in most countries, that doesn't start until the 40s.

2 ( +5 / -3 )

I don't think asking someone their age, or expecting an applicant to state their age, is actually illegal in most countries.

I grabbed four countries to check:

Australia: Appears to only be allowed to be asked if age is relevant to the requirements of the job - such as serving alcohol:

If you’re a particular age. Generally, your age is irrelevant, says McRostie, but where age does pertain to the specific requirements of the job, such as the service of alcohol, questions about age can be asked. Once you’ve secured the role, an employer will need to know your date of birth for taxation, superannuation and remuneration entitlement reasons, which is perfectly lawful.

Link: https://www.seek.com.au/career-advice/can-a-hiring-manager-really-ask-that

Canada: Age is expressly prohibited, though it is allowed for situations are "relevant to the candidate’s ability to perform the job for which they are applying".

Link: https://www.kcyatlaw.ca/illegal-interview-questions/

USA: Mostly illegal for those over 40:

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), protects individuals who are 40 or older from being discriminated against in the workplace in favor of younger employees. There is no federal protection in place to protect workers younger than 40 from age discrimination. To determine if you are legally eligible to perform a job, employers are allowed to ask if you are over the age of 18.

Link: https://www.investopedia.com/financial-edge/0910/8-things-employers-arent-allowed-to-ask-you.aspx

UK: Allows asking, but not by those doing the hiring:

You can ask someone their date of birth on a separate equality monitoring form. You should not let the person selecting or interviewing candidates see this form.

Link: https://www.gov.uk/employer-preventing-discrimination/recruitment

6 ( +8 / -2 )

This is horrible. Of course we know most women never get pregnant and those few who do, it never inconveniences their employers because of all that government support they get to cover costs and issues.

And men? Well they got it easy! Pretty much all they do is show up and nap at their desks! Now if they were stripped from their families and forced to move to other prefectures and countries for years, that would be something!

-8 ( +3 / -11 )

Strangerland:

You're right, I should have checked before making that assertion. Glad to see things have improved since I was last working in the area (in the 90s) when most job applicants provided their age as a matter of routine. Legislation - at least the 2004 Age Discrimination in Employment Act in Australia - doesn't seem to have made much of an impact on older people's ability to get a job, though.

Once unemployed, mature age people face greater challenges re-entering the workforce. Statistics show their average duration of unemployment is 75 weeks, compared with 48 weeks across all age groups. More than one third (37%) of unemployed mature age people are long-term unemployed (52 weeks or more) compared with 24% across all age groups.

(excerpt from the second link below)

I also note that the protections of the Act only apply to people over 40 (which is fair enough in the context of Australia) which wouldn't help the women described in the examples in this article.

Good bit of research, by the way - you looking for a job in that area?

https://www.training.com.au/ed/1-in-5-employers-unknowingly-ask-illegal-interview-questions-heres-how-to-dodge-them/

https://www.employment.gov.au/newsroom/employers-offer-advice-mature-age-workers

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Good bit of research, by the way - you looking for a job in that area?

Not exactly, but I generally try to set our own hiring standards to be in line with what those we are hiring are used to. So I wouldn't ever ask a foreigner's age when interviewing - even though it's legal here, it could put up the hackles of the interviewee.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Although the situation is probably a bit better in the west, youngish female employees in particular (25yo to say 40yo) are still frequently being 'discriminated' against. Sure there is no direct "how old are you? You single? Planning on having kids in the next couple of years?" questions during the interview process but employers do talk/speculate about the candidate's age, marital status, kids/not, single mum/not etc afterwards (not with HR though ;). In a team of say 10 ppl, you don't want to have 4-5 newly married (or in long-term relationships) but childless women aged 28-35yo (esp in countries like oz where staff turnover is already a massive issue) and a couple of young mums.

Same re senior management/international roles, you may be reluctant to give an apac job that requires frequent travel to a (potentially) 40yo single-mum (at the very least this would be 'discussed' with the candidate's previous employers during reference checks).

The -imo main- pbm in Japan is that most women, regardless of their marital status/age/track record/talent/job performance/experience etc aren't given the same opportunities as men. Intelligent, talented, hard-working young/not-so young women with no desire or intention of ever having a child - or with kids but well-organised & with perfect attendance etc- are imo the real victims here.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Things women hear when trying to change jobs:

Age 23-26: “You don’t have enough professional experience for this position.”

Happens to guys too, we have to remember that a lot of people men included have just graduated University, or trade school and dont have that much experience.

Age 27-30: “So, are you married? Hmm…so will you be taking maternity leave soon?”

Legitimate question a lot of women in this age group get into either a job or better position then get pregnant and then go on maternity leave, leaving everyone else to pick up their work load.

Age 31-35: “Ah, so you have young children. Are they still little? I see…”

Another legitimate question, when there are kids in this age employee's missing work rises because the kids are ill or there is no one to look after them.

Age 36 and above: “You’re already this old, but you don’t have much work experience, so we can’t really offer you a position…”

Goes the same with guys, a person shouldn't apply for a job that needs high levels of experience.

A lot of things in life require a trade off, if a person wants to be a corporate ladder climbing that's must be prepared to work long hours and sacrifice their personal life to get somewhere, that's the same with having a family if a person takes time off they have to be prepared to miss out at work.

-3 ( +3 / -6 )

That there is discrimination against women in job interviews means that Japan is a normal country relative to, for example, Britain.

Do a search on "interview discrimination women uk" as I just did and you will learn that it is common in Britain.

There is a consistent pattern in comments to Japan Today articles in which a statement that there is X in Japan is interpreted as meaning X exists only in Japan and everywhere else is better.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Age 31-35: “Ah, so you have young children. Are they still little? I see…”

"Another legitimate question, when there are kids in this age employee's missing work rises because the kids are ill or there is no one to look after them."

The reality is much worse than that. It's not just a case of the mother missing work because her child is ill, the mother may have to miss work because the other mothers in the PTA like to have sessions and commitments during office hours. A mother may also have to miss work because she is looking after her non-ill child during a class shutdown. This can happen due to as few as four or five other kids in the same class being ill. Based on my experience , I would say there is an 80% chance of a class shutdown (gakkyu heisa) happening during winter at my kids' school. For working parents, that means scrabbling to find a caregiver for the following day.

Until schools and pre-schools are run in a way that frees parents to work without OTT demands, you cannot unilaterally blame employers for not wanting to employ the prime caregiver of any child, usually the mother. The main obstacle to the mother working is not employers, it is mothers who don't work giving zero support to those who do.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

"There is a consistent pattern in comments to Japan Today articles in which a statement that there is X in Japan is interpreted as meaning X exists only in Japan and everywhere else is better."

This sentence should be modified as follows: "There is a consistent pattern in comments to Japan Today articles in which a statement that there is X in Japan is interpreted BY ME ONLY as meaning X exists only in Japan and everywhere else is better."

How you interpret other people's comments is far from universal and actually very, very unusual.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

all things they cant ask you here in Canada . Hell , they arent even allowed to ask your age .

0 ( +0 / -0 )

don't think asking someone their age, or expecting an applicant to state their age, is actually illegal in most countries

They can't in the UK, and a good thing too. Many companies no longer ask the sex of the applicant and some even forgo names to prevent prejudice getting in the way of the right person getting the job. One large financial institute no longer asks which university the applicant attended. The degree and level is more important. Stops Oxbridge bias.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

There is a consistent pattern in comments to Japan Today articles in which a statement that there is X in Japan is interpreted as meaning X exists only in Japan and everywhere else is better.

No. That is you reading this into every article. There is zero here to suggest this only happens in Japan. The article merely points out that this is typical in Japan. That this would be of interest to readers is unsurprising, being that we live here; therefore it affects us.

The wife of a friend of mine told me that ever since she got married, job hunting has become more difficult. All the hiring managers assume she isn't serious about her career, and that she will quit in a few years.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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