JAPAN: CAN JAPANESE YOUTH TRANSFORM GENDER INEQUALITY IN THE WORKPLACE?

AGNES CHONG WRITES – It started over two years ago when the hashtag “don’t be silent” was created by political activist Keio Nojo, as she has made big strides in the fight against gender inequality in Japan. The hashtag was created in response to remarks from Tokyo Olympics chief, Yoshiro Mori who was quoted as saying “women talk too much” while in a meeting with female board directors. Remarks such as these are common conceptions of women in Japan’s workforce.

These standards tie back to traditional beliefs and assumptions that are embedded in Japan’s office culture. The cultural emphasis of the workplace is centered on wa (harmony) and gaman (“grin and bear it”). One woman who works at the information counter at a major department store told Business Insider that she was banned from wearing reading glasses while at work because “[she] must look glamorous and bright” in order to meet the demands of her job, yet her male colleague was permitted to wear corrective eyewear without comment from his superior. What’s more, this policy extends beyond department stores and has been implemented in the workplace norms across many industries.

Today, Japanese women are still largely encouraged to assume the caretaker role, performing domestic tasks such as child-rearing and homemaking. The World Economic Forum has reported that out of 156 countries, Japan Ranks 120 in the Global Gender Gap Index. Women are also underrepresented in the job market, with less than 15% of senior roles being offered to women. Back In 2018, the late Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe, created a plan to solve these gendered issues in the workplace through a program he named “womenomics,” which sought to create more opportunities for women in the workplace by encouraging them to enter the job market.

Although this policy brought more than one and a half million more Japanese women into the labor force, most of the available work is part-time and relatively low paid. Yet, Dr. Kumiko Nemoto, a professor of management in the School of Business Administration at Toyko’s Senshu University explains the stagnation in the workplace saying, “Currently, most decision-makers and leaders in Japanese organizations are elderly men, and their gender biases and expectations continue to shape the Japanese workplace and organizational customs.”

Younger generations are determined to instill change. For instance, No Youth No Japan was founded by 24-year-old activist Keio Momoko Nojo in 2019 in an effort to encourage younger Japanese generations to participate in upcoming elections and overcome the systematic gender inequalities at the top level in Japan’s politics. As Time reports, “For Nojo, the pursuit of gender equality and civic engagement are inextricably linked.” Nojo hopes to not only achieve equality in the workplace but transform society and empower women across the country using her social media platform to generate discussion on these issues.

While substantial reform in Japan’s gendered policies will take time to progress into tangible change, the workplace is a good place to start. Not surprisingly, then, Tokyo Olympics chief, Yoshiro Mori, stepped down from his prominent position showing the power of Japan’s youth to incite change. Nojo’s voice on social media is a testament to the power and influence of the next generation of Japan. Her hashtag “don’t be silent” attracted nationwide attention and still remains salient in the discussion of gender equality in the workplace, as it reminds women all over the world  to speak out against gender discrimination and refuse to be silenced.

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