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  • Writer's pictureWomEnpowered International

Biannual Event Report: GENDER EQUALITY AT WORK

Redefining gender norms and building an equitable workplace in Japan post-pandemic

On ​​July 17, 2021 WomEnpowered International held our fifth Bi-Annual event, this time holding a panel discussion on gender equality in the workplace, redefining gender norms and building an equitable work environment in a post-pandemic Japan. The event focused on the paradigm shifts caused by the pandemic and its implications on gender norms. We were honored to have three fantastic panelists at the event. Dr. Kazuo Yamaguchi from the University of Chicago gave us insights into his academic findings, Ms. Hitomi Fujitani shared her corporate experiences at Amazon and Ms. Angela Ortiz offered perspectives as a single mother and an entrepreneur. A highly interdisciplinary discussion, we shed light on gender norms, education systems and examples of unconscious bias to untangle some of the emerging patterns from the post-pandemic experience.

You can access the full recording of the event from here.

The pandemic has been resulted in an increase in the Gender inequality gap in some areas

The conversation began with Dr. Yamaguchi's research on multiple topics scoping the issue of gender inequality during the pandemic. During the event, he made a slide show to show some statistical evidence of gender inequality during the pandemic. One of his research findings shows that women are much more likely to be employed as irregular workers and this explains 46.7% of the gender gap in the opportunities to work, thus resulting in women having less chances to telework than men. Irregular laborers get much less income than regular laborers. Another trigger is common labor characterized by long work hours and inflexible work arrangements, combined with persistent gender inequality in the division of household labor. Once they quit regular employment, few opportunities for stable jobs exist during their re-entry into the labor force. Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, those service industries which require temporary workers ended up dismissing these workers, which led to many women losing their jobs in the end.

Closing the gap between corporate intention and individual reality is a challenge

Ms. Ortiz has witnessed employees hesitate when using the company's parental leave benefits. Although the Japanese government strongly encourages companies to support gender equality, many companies have significant benefits in which new parents can have 1-year parental leave. She saw only two men take parental leave out of 700 workers throughout her three-year experience in a corporation. She pointed out that the companies even encourage them to take these benefits, however the issue largely remains in the social expectations held by employees.

The education system sets gender expectations that have long standing effects on people's career paths

Society has fewer expectations for women to have top career paths as it is a traditional expectation for women to settle down to be a housewife. For instance, women only make up 30% of the student population at the University of Tokyo. When thinking of career makers, there is an unconscious bias that leans towards men. Dr. Yamaguchi highlighted that gendered socialization has a huge influence on how children narrow down their future opportunities. He also showed that Japanese education has failed to encourage women to study STEM subjects. These factors inhibit women from taking part in a job economy of some of the most highly paid jobs on the market.

Gender stereotypes put women in more unpaid work:

The expectation for women to stay home and take care of the housework and children does not change even when they are working women. Ms. Fujitani, highlighted the huge gap in the hours spent by men and women doing housework. Many women encounter challenges balancing their housework as well as jobs and end up not taking time for themselves. Ms. Ortiz shared her personal experience from when she was a single mother with two young kids and was balancing her career at the same time.

Tips from the panelists on how to take action

  • Talk about it.

Most Japanese people care about causing "meiwaku," which means trouble maker. Talking to other people and encouraging them to understand the situation will trigger more large-scale social changes. People should be encouraged to ask for help and take action to change the company, people, and the circumstances.

  • Be a role model.

Many people hesitate and avoid going against the status quo. Given the nature of Japanese corporate culture, Japan needs a more top-down approach.

  • Reset gender expectations.

Whether they are expectations you hold up to others or expectations you hold for yourself, these set the tone for behaviours that are accepted in society. If others expect you to act in a certain way and do certain jobs, you can speak up and challenge these perceptions.

  • Don't be passive, be active.

Too often individuals blindly follow what corporate culture tells them to do. Ms. Fujitani commented by saying, don't care about what others think about you because you are the one to solve the problems. If you don’t discuss or negotiate, the system will not change. Dr. Yamaguchi encouraged the younger generation to take action, and for those in positions of power to be more open-minded and listen to what the young need to change society.

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