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LIST  March 2017

LIST March 2017

Subject:

Re: Labor market elasticities

From:

Rochelle Kopp <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

NBR's Japan Forum <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Fri, 10 Mar 2017 10:43:58 -0800

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I certainly don't dispute that the types of situations described by Scott U. and Jan are a significant issue in Japan. The situation seems to be getting better in recent decades by no means has been completely ameliorated.

As depressing as such situations are, I don't think however that this is the whole of the story. I think the issue is more multifaceted. I believe that the following are also factors behind women not taking advantage of the seishain system:

1. At many companies one of the conditions for being a seishain is agreeing to be transferred to any location at the company's whim.  This is obviously not going to be attractive to women, especially once they get married and especially after they have children. Furthermore, Scott N mentions "LTE is also unlimited 無限定 in terms of duties, hours, location, and loyalty."  I discovered somewhat recently that this is an actual legal requirement upheld by the courts -- for example if you are a seishain and reject a job assignment, it is legally tatamount to resigning. This makes being a seishain less attractive to women.

2. This factor is my personal pet peeve (if Abe doesn't fix this Womenomics is just a lot of hot air): the preferential tax treatment for spouses whose earnings are below about $10,000 per year -- in other words, spouses who are not working in career positions. Combined with social pressure from family members, other mothers, schools, society at large (and as Scott U and Jan mention, in some cases bosses or co-workers) to be a stay-at-home wife/mother, not to mention lack of daycare access and its expense, I believe that the financial considerations engendered by the tax system are often the tipping point that cause Japanese women to drop off the career track.

3. Being a Japanese seishain is no picnic for anyone, with the long work hours and the stress. It is socially acceptable in Japan for women to get off the seishain merry-go-round and choose a different life focus. It's not however socially acceptable for men to do so. I bet a lot of Japanese men would quit too if they felt that they had a choice, and feel just as miserable with the other types of bullying and pressure in the workplace (it's not all gender-based) but instead they just gaman and carry on.  And indeed many Japanese women choose not to get on the seishain path in the first place -- either because it doesn't look like much fun, or because why bother killing yourself (sadly, perhaps literally) with a stressful job in your younger years if ultimately you plan to get married and have kids and stop at that time (as many Japanese women believe you need to choose either marriage and kids or a career and can't practically do both). (Much has been discussed about the impact of the tragic Dentsu karoshi case in terms of galvanizing calls to limit working hours, I wonder if anyone has looked at the impact on young women of putting them off from wanting career track type jobs).

4. Japanese women who wish to get married may also be making a rational choice by avoiding career track positions, as being viewed as a "bari bari career woman" may be detrimental to finding a mate. I recently saw some statistics showing that Japanese women in professional career areas are significantly less likely to be married then men of the same age (can dig up the reference if anyone is interested), which supports  this hypothesis. Of course, the "men intimidated by smart successful women" issue also exists in U.S. culture (can share examples and cites on this too if anyone is interested) but it seems to be much stronger in Japan.  Indeed, in Japan there seems to be a very strong idea that being successful in one's career is incompatible with being feminine. I wrote something about this a few years ago based on my personal experience: http://www.japanintercultural.com/en/news/default.aspx?newsID=145

A final thought. Here where I live in Silicon Valley, in the past few years there has been a lot of discussion about issues for women in tech companies, including both the negative company atmosphere and the very poor diversity statistics. I've seen some excellent articles analyzing why many women at tech companies leave their companies or the industry as a whole (which I would be happy to dig up and share if anyone is interested), typically focusing on hostile work environments. When I read such accounts I often feel that one could switch out the details to Japanese ones and they would plausibly sound like they had taken place in Japanese companies. The issues seem very similar. It is worth keeping in mind that many leading Japanese firms are tech firms (albeit old school tech, but still having workforces dominated by male engineers just as in the Silicon Valley ones). So to what extent is this phenomenon a Japanese one or a tech company one? A mix of both I think, but a good question to ask.

Rochelle Kopp
Japan Intercultural Consulting

-----Original Message-----
From: Jan Michael Rafferty [mailto:[log in to unmask]] 
Sent: Thursday, March 09, 2017 6:56 PM
Subject: Re: Labor market elasticities

I haven't read all the posts in this thread but I can report the problem is not unique to Japanese companies and can be much worse than already described.

According to three Japanese women (age range: 35-50) who are friends of my wife and who have/are working in the Japan-based branch of two different major US high-tech firms (as 正社員) problems of sexism and ageism are rampant. In addition to directly being asked by colleagues and supervisors "why aren't you home taking care of you family?" men, especially younger men, at their companies freely call them "obaasan" (old lady) or use other derogatory terms. 

In short, an oppressive, discriminatory atmosphere -- psychological torture really -- constructed by many men (primarily Japanese) inside these US firms consists of 1) why are you working here at your age and 2) why don't you leave so attractive young women can replace you? The abuse is regular and relentless.

At least one of the 3 women close to 50 & with two school-age children is her family's main income earner due to her husband having been ill for more than 10 years. She hates her job and is desperate to seek employment elsewhere but worries whether she can obtain a job at an equal salary level for at least the next 10 years.



________________________________
From: S. Urista <[log in to unmask]>
To: [log in to unmask] 
Sent: Friday, March 10, 2017 9:03 AM
Subject: Re: [NBR's_Japan_Forum] Labor market elasticities


Based on my long experience as a senior manager at major Japanese firms, my n = 1 answer is that by and large it is "female workers are generally not given the chance to benefit from the lifetime employment system". 

I have seen far too many talented female co-workers 'drop out' - but only because they were pushed out, almost entirely by older Japanese male bosses that decided that the woman needed to spend more time at home making babies. 

I wish I was even just half-joking, but I’m not.

-S

Scott Urista




> Arthur:  I wonder if it's " female workers do not benefit from the lifetime
> employment system " or is it really " female workers do not choose to
> benefit from the lifetime employment system."  For example, drop-out rate
> of female seishain is quite high, and also many Japanese women decide to
> not go after seishain positions in the first place even if they are
> (theoretically) available to them.


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