Helping women get back into the workplace

By Taro Fujimoto

In Japan, about 70% of working women quit their jobs when they start a family. Though many hope to eventually return to the workplace, it is difficult for them to return to a full-time working environment afterwards. According to the government, approximately 2.45 million women aged between 25 and 65 wish to work full-time in companies.

As one of the measures to encourage women to return to the workforce, Japan Women’s University (JWU) started the so-called “Recurrent Education-Employment System” with the government’s financial support in September, 2007. In the one-year program, women who have bachelor degrees and working experience take courses to update their work skills, such as business English and introductory and advanced computer training. The program also provides career counseling so students can find new jobs which match their related experience and skills.

“I would like to enjoy the rest of my life in a useful way,” says a 44-year-old woman who has been taking the course since last September. She quit her research job because she wanted to raise her two kids who are now 20 and 17. Although she has been working at home for a publisher for 20 years, she says: “Working at home alone is dead-end work. Working for a company full time is more interactive.” But returning to a full-time job has been difficult due to family issues such as the lack of daycare for her mother, she says. She points out that some women don’t even have time to attend the program due to these difficulties.

However, because of the labor shortage and an increasing awareness of diversity in human resources in companies, the movement encouraging women to come back to the office is attracting much more attention in the business community now.

The American Chamber of Commerce in Japan (ACCJ) is one of the advocates for such a movement. On June 27, its Corporate Social Responsibility Committee organized a half-day “mini-curriculum” as part of an ACCJ pilot program called “Soft Landing.” Held at Shinsei Bank headquarters, the mini-curriculum featured workshops presented by representatives from Shinsei Bank, State Street and Deutsche Bank Groupto enhance JWU students’ interviewing, resume writing and logical thinking skills.

Victoria Becker, a lawyer for State Street and a member of the ACCJ CSR Committee, says, “The Japanese government initiative to help women return to the workforce is inspiring enthusiastic support from the international business community. The ACCJ has taken on this project as part of its ‘kanreki’ (60th anniversary) celebrations this year, bringing together two important interests: women who want to return to work and companies looking for good employees. State Street and other ACCJ member companies are very excited about the quality of the JWU students we have met so far and about the possibilities going forward.”

A human resource consultant for corporate clients says, “The banking industry is now lacking human resources, especially in private banking services. Women are needed in these services to help a bank differentiate itself from its competitors. Companies nowadays cannot adapt to changes in markets without diversified human resources. Career blanks or being too old cannot be a reason not to hire these women.”

What kind of women are taking the recurrent education program? Keiko Fukuzawa, a visiting professor at JWU, says, “About 50% of participants are single women who wish to resume their careers.” She says the program is a sort of course that bridges undergraduate and postgraduate education.

“There is interaction between housewives and career women in the program,” explains Fukuzawa. “Housewives in their 30s tend to envy career women because of their corporate career path, while career women in their 30s tend to envy housewives because they look happy, with their married lives and children. Everyone wants something they don’t have.”

Fukuzawa stresses that placing students in full-time jobs is not necessarily the ultimate goal of the program but points out that “interaction among students with different backgrounds is important for women to know themselves and their position in society.” She says building a sustainable working career and pushing women who wish to return to the workplace are also important in the program.

However, it is also true that the required skills and experience for returning vary from company to company. One HR manager at an international banking firm, says, “I think the idea and its framework are good. But in reality, companies generally consider candidates’ experience and skills so they can meet criteria for individual professional services in individual departments, which is very important. Therefore, some companies would focus on their working careers and professionalism from candidates.”

Time management is biggest issue

Whatever the backgrounds of returning women are, the common issue for them is “time management,” as they call it. Mayumi Maeda, who obtained an accounting degree at a university in the United States during her 15-year stint as a housewife there, says that in a job interview she played up the fact that she had managed her life as a student, wife and mother, which resulted in a successful return to full-time work as an accounting associate.

Kaori Onodera, who returned to work after taking one year off to care for her twins, says, “Getting the right balance between working and child-care is difficult. For me, the solution was my mother’s support at home. I was very lucky in that respect. Although I wanted to do everything by myself, it turned out to be impossible. When you try to do everything by yourself, a lot of problems arise which have a negative influence over both work and child-raising.”

It has been pointed out that the Japanese society doesn’t have an enough social support to help returning women achieve a balance between working and child-raising. Some commentators refer to examples of Germany, which has a strict regulation on working overtime, and Belgium where parents can go home around noon on Wednesdays and Fridays when schools finish early.

So it seems that in Japan, support for women who wish to return to full-time work has only just started. Companies are still carefully evaluating this movement, especially how returning women perform on the job. While the participants’ motivation is very high and supporting frameworks are being developed in Japan, they commonly say they don’t know where to start and how to find jobs which match both their skills and companies’ needs. Therefore, it will take more than a support framework like the recurrent education program. Changes in working style in the current male-oriented society will be required for a better working environment for women.

© Japan Today

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someone please hire my wife!

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Very good news, indeed, but: “Housewives in their 30s tend to envy career women because of their corporate career path, while career women in their 30s tend to envy housewives because they look happy, with their married lives and children. Everyone wants something they don’t have.”

The idea of career women as oposed to married women with children is completely wrong. Too many people here think that a career women can not be a good mother.

Then why does it work fine in Europe/western cultures? It's all about the support from the government and society. If a woman wants to work but there are not daycare institutions for babies (because that is supposed to be superfluous in Japan), she can not just leave the baby at home and go to work. Just creating many of such institutions in Japan would be a great encouragement measure.

Another good measure: in Spain, for example, women under 35 have "financial help" (we pay less taxes), and also if we start our own business, and so on. That is encouragement.

Another thing would be to stop showing the image of women as always wearing their epulon and slippers, carrying a pan, while the men are showed with the business case, or reading books when they are at home while the mother is cooking. It only forces women to identify themselves with that role. They did not choose to be born "women", so giving them a role is just unfair.

Why can a man choose between one thousand fantastic jobs but a woman can just clean, cook, raise children and, maybe getting a second-class part time job? Is that not unfair??

In Europe it is very rare to see that old-fashioned image of a woman today. In TV ads, they are showed in front of the computer as much as the man is showed washing the dishes. That has helped women also to identify themselves with the working type. TV is very powerful indeed!

And I could tell many more examples of how to encourage women to work... I hope this is the first step towards a gender-equal and fair society.

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WE have the same opinion, why not those housewives save some money and start their own business. They can hire personnels if they have a big business. They can divide thier time to manage their business and time for thier children, husband and family. A sort of handling time management.

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I think this is a good step. My personal backgroud, my mother worked as well as my father. They both helped in raising us. Dad would cook, and stay home until mom worked. Mom did not go back to school for higher degrees until we were old enough to stay at home by ourselves (13/14) without a baby sitter. So, I strongly believe that work and home life can be balanced.

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Well I guess if companies would actually start hiring women as actual employees than their wishes would come true. People also need to start working normal hours if both parents from a household want to work and have a family. The should have more involvement in making this happen.

For many women not working is a dream. I think getting educated becomes more of a status thing in many cases because countless women in Japan don`t end up applying that education.

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In Japan most women do not dream about working after 30s ideally. But marrying and being housewives and live from a husband and show off their wealth if they are lucky. The worst are the women that do nothing at this stage but only watching TV, buying the last items that magazines like mad without thinking very much as they say on media that it is fashion, going out with her friends all day or the gym, do not cook but buy food and scold husbands that they are not earning so much money for her expenses limiting their husbands. This is what I sadly often listen from some Japanese and foreign colleagues married to Japanese women.

I am not tied to a Japanese woman but a European one and luckily she is a career woman as they say in Japan. She has been able to rear our two kids and work part time in what she likes in Japan. We are following by chance what we did outside Japan. Nevertheless we get shocked when some strangers in Japan say that we are not doing the right thing... What do they know? My wife is not bored to death when our kids are at school and she is doing what she wants having her own money for what she wants. Our mothers did the same and I do not think that we were uneducated or abandoned as kids. The opposite. Regarding housework we work in teams and I cook and clean too and working together and quicker we have more free time to enjoy activities with our kids.

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Anti zombie, You're a symbol of a new generation husband. You are a fair husband. Goodluck to your happy marriage life.

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Finally, addressing one of Japan's biggest economic/social problems. This will not only help empower women, but I think this will eventually lead to a larger birth rate once women feel that they can return to their jobs even if they have a family.

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I am a housewufe in Japan. When I was working as a teacher, I asked my mother-in law to take care of my son. I asked her to take care of him, actually, I wanted to focus on taking care of him. She was very supportive and helpful,but sometimes she wanted me to follow her way of doing something, especailly raising a child. At that time I had some dilemma between working and staying home for my family. I wanted to raise my son in my way and if I had some trouble about taking care of him, I would talk with my husband and try to solve the problem.I felt depressed with not taking care of my son by myself but on the other hand, I enjoyed teaching something students at high school. I always had been in the dilemma situation while working. One day, I suddenly fell down and brought to hospital by amulance from the work place. Now I have been suspended from duty and try to recover from my illness. Still now, I don't know where I should be back after I overcome the illness. If someone have some dilemma about this kind of things, I want to listen to your experience for me.

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Dear Sallysky, I guess you are in a crucial moment of your life and feel insecure about what decission to make.

Please don't feel bad for not taking care of your child personally. I was myself raised at home by a hired person because my mother was a chemistry teacher at a high school. We are 4 sisters and none of us ever felt bad or complained to our mother about this. Just the opposite: we are very proud that our mother was a career women until she retired and never gave up her job despite the difficulties until we grew up.

By doing this, my mother had herself some role in society to be proud of (educating teenagers, such an important thing!). Moreover, she got her own money, she had her independence economically and thus more freedom to spend as she liked. Now she is retired and loves travelling around with all the money she got these years :)

Having both parents a job, we 4 sisters were able to be paid for our university studies and moreover we had second houses on the beach and so on. My mother contributed to that with 50% of her effort and money and I am sure she felt happy about it.

I can only thank my mother for all her effort on contributing to the wellfare of the family. She sometimes meets old students on the street who thank her ans show their appreciation for her well-doing. That makes her profoundly satisfied.

And I have only very little memories about the hired persons who took care of me, as I was so little. My memories with my mother are much stronger because she is the person I really loved, other people taking care of me were just "passing by".

If my western point of view has any value to you, please think that in Europe this is the general procedure as there are kindergartens everywhere for that purpose. No one I ever knew complained about his/her mother working at his/her childhood. It is only fair to let mothers have a career as well.

I encourage you strongly to fill up your life having such an important career as a high school teacher and at the same time spending very lovely time at home with your kids in the evenings and do something outside at the weekends (what about visiting the sections for kids of the science museums?)

Good luck and all the best wishes for you.

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As you say, my mother was a working mother. Her working as she did was always a source of pride to my my brothers and my sister. It impressed me that she was able to balance both working and family together.

On the other hand, my sister-in-law is a stay at home mom. She and my brother decided this a long time ago. Now that her kids are getting older, she is looking to get back into the workforce. Taking classes just like they're talking about in order to have the education and skills needed for the job she wants. To me, both are impressive.

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If a woman wants to have kids then take care of them, even if you do have skads of money to hire it out. Our children are our most precious resource and to have strangers raising them and teaching them habits that may not be your habits is scary. It is I,m sure most mothers de=ream to have it all so they say, but when you have it all something else suffers.

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Thanks for replying me really kindly. I got to know both of things were deserved to be impressive, so I want to change my mind about work and household things from now on. I think it importnat to consider both of things undivided and greatful. I try to think what I want to do in my life at first. Maybe the way of thinking will open up to the new world that I am looking for. If I live a lively life as a mother and wife and a woman, My son would watch the way of living and feels relived, I guess.Anyway, thank you very much ,all.

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it's not easy to balance a career and family in any country but when you try to do it in karoshi oriented companies then taking the time out to take care of family matters can really make your career difficult. It's the reason that there is a "glass ceiling" for many women. Even for guys if you aren't willing to put in the time and hang with the boys you aren't going to advance. That's doubly difficult for women anywhere but in Japan it's probably trebly so. I wouldn't want to try it.

Sally, both our kids went to kindergarten from an early age and both have grown up OK. Your mother-in-law may do things differently but did her son turn out that badly? I think if you try everything will work out better than you imagine. I've found that the kids are very good at making the best of things. It's the adults who worry about things, maybe more than they should.

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Isn't it a it suspicious that this is being run by the ACCJ? Is it their role to influence culture like this?

Something needs to be exposed here.

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I am a western woman, married to a Japanese guy, with two young children. I have always worked, and my children are in a fabulous daycare. Candyapple`s opinions, while valid, are not really based in the real world.

I have no problem at al with stay at home mums, or working mums, I only have a problem with those who try to force their opinions on others with no experience of their own particular circumstances.

We decided to put the children into daycare for many reasons - give them a headstart on learning native Japanese for when they enter the education system, to give them room and space to play in (as opposed to our tiny apartment and the "prison parks" in our area), to develop social skills, to enable me to take a break and handle the inevitable stress that comes from raising children in a foreign culture, and many many more.

I totally sympathise with sallysky - that constant balancing act is very very hard physically and emotionally. I go through it all day every day and even at night in my dreams! But I think that whatever works for one mom and one family is fine and nobody elses business. I have been criticised many times for working and putting my children into daycare but all that criticism has come from Japanese mothers who stay at home and have no experience of what it is like to try and raise children in a foreign environment.

My friend in the same situation and I both agreee - Happy Mommy, Happy Child. And that should be more important than anything else, whatever the way to decide to try and achieve it.

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I have some questions... I am American and my fiance is Japanese. She was going to college in Japan and took some time off to come to America and go to school. Now she has graduated from school here in America and will return to Japan to finish her other degree. We want to get married first then go to Japan together. Her parents and their friends and associates are saying we should not. Their reason is they think no Japanese company will h ire her if she is married. I understand that things are hard for women in Japan as far as work but aren't they improving? And now she is reconsidering marrying me now and postponing our marriage until she graduates and gets hired. I myself have a "can-do" personality and I think we can work through this together. I know I am unfamiliar with Japan and how these things work their. But isn't not getting married because you are afraid you will not get a good job prioritizing your career before your marriage? Anyways..... any advice, suggestions or input would be great. Thank you!

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Hi, I am a student currently doing research on this topic. I would like to know when this article was written or how I can contact the article writer to find out more about this topic. Thanks :)

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