TV & Radio
Working Women Set Their Sights Higher
TOKYO, May 25 (IPS) - When Manami Sato's mother started work at a large trading company almost three decades ago, she was hired as one of several female assistants, a job that included serving tea and copying files for male managers and was the norm those days
But Sato, 26, who graduated from Aoyama University, a prestigious private institution, and then spent two years in the United States furthering her studies in international business, is not ready to follow in her mother's footsteps.
‘'I have just been promoted to assistant manager in my company,'' says Sato who works for an international finance company she prefers not to name. ‘'I intend to keep working hard in this company till I am ready to move on to something bigger."
Sato, say labour experts, represents the new generation of well-educated Japanese working women who are ambitious, career oriented and have their sights set higher than their mothers did in a male-dominated job market.
‘'The changes we note today in female employment patterns represent important developments in Japan that have occurred within a short time span. It is not an exaggeration to say Japanese women are hardworking and ambitious,'' said Makoto Hosoda, director at ‘Hello Work', a government-supported recruitment office in Tokyo.
Buoyed by Japan's strengthening economy the employment rate for university graduates was a record high -- 96.6 percent for men and 96 percent for women, forming a total of 357,000 new employees, according to the health, welfare and labour ministry.
‘'The employment gender gap in Japan has narrowed significantly for university graduates and will stay that way. Today we also see men and women ready to have long-term careers and prefer to work in companies that can give them these opportunities,'' said Takashi Nagata, an expert at the Daiwa Research Institute.
According to Nagata, who has to his credit a report on newly graduated females, more women are moving out from the clerical sector, as was the tradition, and taking on more challenging jobs in banking, information technology and medicine.
Moreover, they work long hours along with their male compatriots and spend their spare time improving career skills to gain chances at promotion.
New data point to an improving situation for Japanese female workers. For example, labour ministry figures show that women, who till three years comprised a dismal 3 to 4 percent of the senior management positions, now hold between 4 to 10 percent.
On he salary front too there are better signs. Ministry reports indicate the salary-gender gap is closing -- from the earlier 62.8 percent to 66 percent in 2006. This is something of a revolution in Japan where stark wage and promotion differences were once readily accepted.
Says Makiko Ogata at Recruit Company, a leading employment agency: ‘'These days, as the labour market ages, companies do not differentiate between genders so much. Women are even more sought after by managements than before.''
Ogata pointed to several new factors such as the ‘greying population' that is expected to lead to a steep decline in the national labour force. Referred to in Japan as the Big Bang the phenomenon, by 2025, is expected to show up 600 million fewer employees than in 1998.
Ogata also indicated a new report by United Nations Economic nad Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, released this month, showed how gender discrimination in the Asia-Pacific region can result in some 80 billion US dollars worth of economic losses.
‘'Domestic and international trends that influence Japan's diversifying labour market, have contributed to more gender equality here,'' she told IPS.
But experts also point to harsher working environments for women that are accompanying the change.
Nagata's report showed that Japanese women continue to bear the brunt of family responsibilities which restrict their chances of taking up challenging jobs that demand travel or inconvenient work schedules.
‘'Japanese companies have still not adjusted adequately to accept career-oriented women such as by establishing flexible schedules for them or enacting regulations that put pressure on men to take paternity leave,'' he explained to IPS. (END/2007)