Japanese women excluded from corporate and professional roles

The New York Times article, Japan’s Neglected Resource: Female Workers, presents an appalling picture of the corporate and professional opportunities for women in Japan. It suggests that the economic boost provided by expanding the role of women could go a long way toward improving Japan’s sluggish economy, but that the Japanese would rather let the economy stagnate then let that happen: “With women sidelined from the career track, Japan is effectively fighting with one hand tied behind its back.”

“By tradition Japanese companies hire men almost exclusively to fill career positions, reserving shorter-term work, mostly clerical tasks and tea serving, for women, who are widely known in such jobs here as office ladies, or simply O.L.’s.”

Considering that the situation for women in corporate and professional roles in the U.S., where women hold 45 percent of managerial positions, certainly has room for improvement, it is striking to note that women hold only about 9 percent of managerial positions in Japan. “Meanwhile”, the article reports, “at companies where women make up 40 to 50 percent of the staff, average profits are double those where women account for 10 percent or less, the Economy Ministry reported last month.”

The article suggests that there may be a movement afoot in Japan to address this issue. That’s good news if so. It sounds like it will be a difficult task overcoming the cultural and traditional barriers, however.