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'Equal Employment Opportunity Law System' and Women (cont.)

Bill Gordon

October 1998

5. Discriminatory Structure and Practices

This section of the essay discusses what I believe to be the key structural features and practices that lead to employment discrimination against women: the lifetime employment and seniority-based wage system, the dual-track employment system, and societal attitudes. Although Yoneda emphasizes the effects that the major laws implemented in 1986 had on women's employment, I think these three key structural features and practices play a much larger role in determining the conditions of women's employment. Of course, the major laws that went into effect in 1986 have had an impact on these three items, but these items existed before 1986, and they continue to greatly influence the employment situation for Japanese women.

Lifetime Employment and Seniority-Based Wage System
Lifetime employment and seniority-based wages continue to be the backbone of Japanese-style management in large companies. Women do not generally obtain the rewards of such a system, since their average length of full-time employment at a company (8.2 years in 1996) is much shorter than that of men's (13.1 years) because women tend to quit to fulfill their roles as mother and wife (Sôrifu 1998). Moreover, the seniority-based wage system does not apply to non-regular employees, most of which are women.

Large Japanese companies, which almost all still have lifetime employment and seniority-based wages, as a rule have better pay and benefits than smaller companies, but women are not as well represented as men in these large companies. In 1996, 16.6% of women and 22.8% of men worked for companies with 1,000 or more employees (Keizai Kikakuchô 1997, Sect. 1.1.1, Graph 1-1-5). Large companies also tend to hire men first. The number of female college graduates employed by companies with 1,000 or more employees went from 36% in 1985 to 50% in 1989 to 41% in 1992 (Kumagai 114-115). The decrease in the percentage of women hired can be attributed to the economic recession starting in 1991 and the tendency of large companies to favor men in hiring decisions.

Dual-Track Employment System
Although the dual-track employment system existed before 1986, many companies formalized the system after the passage of the EEOL. With the dual-track system, new employees enter either a comprehensive career-track position (sôgôshoku) or a general clerical non-career track position (ippanshoku). Some companies also have established a third track for professional workers who do not have to accept transfers. Within five years after passage of the EEOL, about 50% of the companies with 5,000 or more employees formally adopted the dual-track employment system, whereas only about 1% of companies with 30 to 99 employees adopted the system (Kawashima 286).

The majority of female employees are confined to the non-career track, with only bright, dedicated career-oriented women admitted to career-track positions. At many companies, there is still an informal emphasis that the career track is not for women who want to have a family. In contrast, men are expected to take career-track positions. Although the percentages of women entering the different tracks vary between companies, the following 1991 statistics give some idea as to how the system works in practice. Tokyo Marine Insurance, a very prestigious firm, hired 424 men and 24 women to career-track positions and 553 women and no men to the non-career track. JAL hired 147 men and 3 women to the career track, in addition to 52 women to the non-career track. Some firms hire a much greater proportion of women for professional jobs, such as Isetan Department Store, which hired 80 men and 65 women to career-track positions and no one to the non-career track. (Iwao 1993, 180)

Even though many companies, especially smaller ones, have not established a formal dual-track employment system, most still informally track women into non-career type positions. For example, many office ladies (Ols) work as assistants who do a variety of menial tasks such as filing, copying, greeting customers, data entry, and serving tea.

The limited participation of women in career-track positions results in relatively few women managers. In companies with 100 or more employees, women make up only 1% of the total number of general managers (buchô), 3% of section managers (kachô), and 7% of subsection heads (kakarichô) (Ogasawara 1998, 19). According to a Ministry of Labor survey of companies, the top three reasons why there are few or no women managers are: 'there are no women with the necessary knowledge, experience, or judgment' (48%), 'women workers tend to work fewer years than men and retire before they can become managers' (35%), and 'there are women with the capacity to become managers in the future, but they have not yet worked a sufficient number of years' (30%) (Iwao 1996, Table 3).

Societal Attitudes
Yoneda explains that young women generally do not want to continue working when they have a family for two reasons. First, under the 'equal employment opportunity law system', if women want to continue working as full-time employees, they must work under the same conditions as men, which often means a great number of work hours. Second, marriage can be security for a woman who is supported by the high salary of her husband who works long hours (249-250). Yoneda's comments accurately reflect the thinking of many Japanese women. Very few women who want to have a family are able and willing to do the extreme amount of work performed by men in career-track positions.

Many Japanese hold stereotypes and expectations that support a gender-stratified work structure, but these beliefs are changing. In 1985, 52% of the men and 37% of the women believed that the husband should work and the wife should stay at home, but these percentages decreased to 33% of men and 22% of women by 1995 (Keizai Kikakuchô 1997, Sect. 1.3.1). A 1993 poll indicates that 70% of women favored a two-stage work life, where a woman works until she has children and then returns to the work force after raising her children (Murdo 1993). This high percentage indicates the great value Japanese women place on child rearing, but it probably also shows the lack of desirable opportunities for women to continue working after children are born.

6. Positive Developments

The Japanese government recognizes the need to fully utilize the female work force because of the projected shortage of labor due to the declining birth rate and rapidly aging population. The changes to the EEOL, Labor Standards Law, and other related laws approved by the Diet in 1997 show the government's desire to improve working conditions for women. However, some critics believe these changes will allow companies 'to replace full-time male employees with part-time women workers, who will receive lower wages and benefits and no lifetime employment' (Pollack 1997). Also, these changes in the laws do not address the fundamental problems facing women (e.g., dual-track employment system) as discussed in Section 5 of this essay.

Although changes in laws provide the framework for improvements in the employment situation for Japanese women, real progress will only occur based on changes in the personnel policies of individual companies and shifts in people's attitudes toward the role of women in the work place. A few companies are taking positive steps to assist women so they can better balance the responsibilities of work and family by supporting child care and by allowing flex-time, five-day workweeks, and leaves of absence.

Many well-educated women go to foreign-owned companies that offer challenging jobs and good pay more equal with men's than most Japanese companies (Y. Tanaka 1995, 106). These foreign firms have more trouble obtaining men due to the lower security and benefits they offer in comparison to large Japanese companies (Iwao 1993, 169).

Many companies with a majority of women customers, such as fashion and cosmetic companies, department stores, and travel agencies, have realized how women employees can provide valuable perspectives and skills to better understand and service their customers. For example, many department stores, which are estimated to have 60% to 80% women employees depending on the store and location, have instituted policies to retain women workers. Isetan Department Store allows pregnant women to take eight weeks off with pay both before and after the birth of a child. A woman can also take up to three years of unpaid leave and return to the same job. Seibu and Tôbu department stores have license programs of reinstatement which allow women to return to the company at their former status up to a maximum of ten years after departure. (Creighton 1996, 196, 199)

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Introduction | Section 1 | Section 2 | Section 3
Section 4 | Section 5 | Section 6 | Section 7 | Bibliography
"'Equal Employment Opportunity Law System' and Women"
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