Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Getting Japanese Women Back on Track

Japan's economy is threatened. Not just by an ongoing recession and March's disastrous earthquake and tsunami, but by an aging population that is decimating the workforce. If ever a country needed a breakthrough idea for productivity, it's now. In fact, a solution exists: Japan's underutilized women. According to a 2010 study by Goldman Sachs, "If Japan could close its gender employment gap, Japan's workforce could expand by 8.2 million and the level of Japan's GDP could increase by as much as 15 percent." 

Yet according to a new study from the Center for Work-Life Policy, 74% of college-educated women in Japan voluntarily quit their jobs for six months or more — more than twice the number of their counterparts in the U.S. (31%) and Germany (35%). The reason for this enormous brain drain: a toxic combination of social mores and how they're manifested in Japan's corporate culture. 

Japanese tradition defines a woman's primary role as ryosaikenbo — "good wife, wise mother." It is assumed that most women will quit their jobs when they marry, a phenomenon known as a "happy resignation". Because of this, female college graduates are automatically sidetracked onto the "office lady" path, a dead-end support staff role whose duties include making tea for male managers, dusting their desks, and serving drinks at after-hours functions. Between men and women, there's a huge earnings gap: On average, women only earn 72% of the compensation paid to men for equivalent jobs.

Japan boasts a large pool of well-educated women, with women constituting nearly half of university graduates. Companies should make a special effort to recruit, retain, and accelerate female talent to give Japan's ailing economy the boost it so desperately needs. 

decimating - destroying a great number of (workforce)
breakthrough - significant development or achievement
underutilized - not fully used
counterparts - people resembling another (American and German women are counterparts of Japanese women.)
brain drain - loss of trained professional personnel in the country's workforce
mores - customs or practices in the society 
sidetracked - being led out of the way
pool - source
ailing - troubled; sick


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