Feminism suffers a setback in Japan

20 October 2014 by in Business and finance, The Diversity Dashboard

We’re all familiar with the British MPs’ expenses scandal, which shocked tax payers, revealing that duck houses were more important uses of our money than improvements to the NHS. Two of Japan’s ministers have stepped down today after it was revealed that they had taken advantage of the claims system. However, this is not merely a blow for the government, but for feminism and women’s rights in Japan.

One minister to resign was hotly tipped to be the country’s first female leader, which would have bolstered the feminist movement in Asia and promoted gender equality in a country slightly late to that party.

Japan resigns

Elidh Milnes and Dr Deborah Swallow’s book, The diversity dashboard, offers advice to women wishing to do business in Japan and how to avoid the pitfalls of working in an unfamiliar culture.

Culture crash
Starting a new job is always daunting; moving to a new country even more so. Else, a middle-aged Danish lady, has made the move to Tokushima, Japan, in order to experience a new culture and progress her career. Before she moved to Japan, she was the general manager in a popular soft-drink company. Else led by example and encouraged her staff to work in an inclusive work environment where each member of the team was treated equally and each role was viewed as just as important as the next. She was more like a mentor than a manager and this put a spring in her step each morning.

On the first day at work in the company in Tokushima, Else was greeted by three well-dressed men: not a woman in sight except for the girl at reception. Instantly she sensed the male-dominated environment and over the next few weeks she began to feel insignificant. Although no one said anything directly to Else, she found her points of view were shunned, her self-esteem bruised, and she felt put down. Her management style was achieving nothing and she was getting nowhere.

Culture tip
In Japan, hierarchy is an all important feature of management. An English male colleague who had been working in the firm for two years explained, ‘The work culture in Japan makes a clear differentiation between male and female roles. It is a rigid structure and although multinational companies are more used to women in the workforce, the traditional Japanese companies still only have men as senior managers.’

Cultural insight
A recent survey suggests that: ‘Gender inequality causes resentment, anger and reduced life satisfaction more among European and American women than among Chinese women, who value gender equality less. Chinese women consider gender inequality to be less unjust and less unfair.’

One hopes that this does not harm the feminist movement in Japan and that social progression continues apace. We may have to send over Germaine Greer!

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