Mother, father, baby and work

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Most Japanese men expect to gain more money and status the longer they stay with their company. By the time they reach their forties or fifties, they expect to become managers and earn considerably more than they did when they joined their company in their twenties.

That was the system which was common throughout corporate Japan during its rapid growth period from the 1960s until the 1980s. Yet this seniority based-management culture is being challenged. One of its critics is Professor Seijiro Takeshita from Shizuoka University who complains that it creates “stagnation” within Japanese corporate culture. He wants the seniority based-management culture to be replaced with a meritocracy-based system and a fresh approach towards promotion.

“We need to reward people for taking risks,” said Professor Takeshita, “and not punish them for failure.”

Professor Takeshita and other critics claim that older, long-serving employees are unlikely to embrace change and seek new opportunities. He argues that this corporate conservatism is likely to become stronger as Japan’s working population grows older but says it is not a good characteristic to have when Japan is competing against other more youthful Asian countries for business.

Another issue with is that the high rates of pay rarely go to people who have young children. Yet it is families with young children who may require the most financial support. One of the big challenges for Japan is how to create an environment in which more people are prepared to have children and offset the falling birth rate.

One radical suggestion for encouraging people to start families has been put forward by Kaori Sasaki, the founder and chief executive of ewoman, who said that companies should offer “automatic promotions” to men who take paternity leave in order to look after young children. “Men do not take paternity leave because they fear their careers will suffer. If we promote those that do, then the circumstances will change,” she said.

Although the idea has appeal, it is hard to imagine that it would ever be implemented by any Japanese corporation. Rather more importantly, women who want to take maternity leave need assurances that their careers will not suffer as a result of having children and also that they will be able to access child care when they need it so that they continue working and raising a family at the same time.

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