Mr. Abe: increase women workers in Japanese workplace

Aging population and low fertility rate has been one of the most severe problems in Japan. In 2014, 25.9% of the population in Japan are senior people more than 65 years old. According to Statistical Handbook of Japan, the rate will increase to 33% in 2030. Because of dwindling workforce, Japan is looking to women for solution.

Situation of women in Japanese workplace

While Japanese women are better educated than nearly any other countries in the world, female participation in the labor force is 63%, much lower than in other developed countries. It is common in this place that women leave their jobs when getting married or having their first child born. They stop working for decades or more. Data shows that 70% of those who leave their jobs even for good. Partly because of the leaving problem, the rate of leadership roles in Japanese company is only 10%, quite low compared to 31% in Singapore, 38% in Germany and 43% in the U.S.

Women workforce in Abenomics

Due to this problem in Japan, the government is making effort on raising the participation of women in the workforce. On Oct. 17, the cabinet approved a bill that big companies (with 301 employees or more) to increase the rate of women in management positions. These companies are required to make and announce their plans on this.

To develop the economy in Japan, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe put this issue in one of the most important ones in his Abenomics. His goal is to increase the rate of women leaders in Japan to 30% by 2020.


In addition, we can see there are five women ministers in his new cabinet. By doing this, the female representation jumped to 26% from 10%. Mr. Abe’s action was to make an example for the society. “I believe that the hard work of the women in the cabinet will bring on social change,” Mr. Abe said.


Will it work?

Before arguing if Mr. Abe’s effort will make an effect, it may be important to look at the reasons first why most Japanese women quit their jobs.

One study compared the reasons why Japanese and American college graduates leave their jobs. The result shows that child-care and looking after elderly relations are the main factors for American women. While Japanese women are dissatisfied with their jobs and they have a feeling of being put into “dead-end” roles. In Japan, men usually work for long hours and hence don’t have much time taking care of children. This makes Japanese women feel that they need to be at home. Furthermore, women in wealthy places in Japan, like Tokyo, simply do not want to work.

With fact above, will the issue of women workforce in Japan be easily changed?

According to Yoko Yajima, a diversity consultant at Mitsubishi UFJ Research and Consulting, “It’s about work-life balance, worker productivity, training female employees, diversifying work styles—issues that companies have been trying to address for about 20 years.”

The situation that there are less women in Japanese workplace than in other rich places in the world is not only simply caused by the policy. Changing Japanese women’s mind may be another important aspect for Mr. Abe to achieve his goal.


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