Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s “womenomics” scheme aims to get more women into the workforce in order to combat the shrinking and aging population and help spur the Japanese economy. While I believe women can save Japan, I don’t think it’ll be through womenomics. As any Japanese woman can tell you, it’s not as easy as it should be for females to work full-time in this country. In the Japanese business world, companies are loath to offer working conditions that males and females alike enjoy in other developed countries, such as reasonable work hours (40 hours a week with optional overtime), work sharing, flexitime and working from home. Whereas in the West the attitude is that as long as you get your work done on time, it doesn’t matter how you do it, in Japan emphasis is more on the hours put in at the office to show your loyalty to the company. Add to that additional cultural biases against gender, age, experience and returning to work after raising children, and you have a recipe for “eternal housewife.”
Clearly, the problem is deeper than merely hiring more women, or adding more day care centers, both actions Abe is pushing. But the good news is that there is a group of women who are beating the system, and who have been for some time now.
This week, as part of our Women in Japan Series, we introduce you to three female entrepreneurs who have successfully forged ahead in the business world by defining their own terms. They can support themselves financially, are able to live more freely, have time for their children and families, and work fewer hours than they’d have to in the corporate world. And the best thing about it? They’re regular women, just like you, me, or your partner. Drum roll please…