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Enforcement of Act Concerning Promotion of Women's Career Activities and Current State of Gender Gap

The Act concerning Promotion of Women's Career Activities, which stipulates the establishment of an environment in which women can fully display their abilities and be active at work in accordance with their wishes, has been enacted and will go into effect on April 1, 2016. The law obliges the central government, local governments, and large companies with 301 or more employees to compile action plans aimed at promoting the career activities of women. (Smaller companies with 300 or fewer employees are obliged to make efforts in this direction.)

In compliance with the new law, large companies must (1) understand in-house conditions relating to women's career activities and analyze issues; (2) compile, report, notify, and publicize an action plan containing appropriate numerical targets and efforts necessary for the solution of these issues; and (3) disclose information relating to women's career activities in that company.

Furthermore, upon application, excellent companies that report their action plans and make efforts to promote the career activities of women will be able to receive certification from the minister of health, labour, and welfare. Certified companies will be able to attach a mark of approval designated by the minister of health, labour, and welfare on their products.

In Japan the Equal Employment Opportunity Act went into effect in 1986. That law prohibited discrimination against workers because of gender and, while respecting maternity, made it easier for women to work. Initially the law prohibited discrimination against women, but later it was revised to prohibit discrimination against men too, as well as to oblige companies to take steps to counter sexual harassment. Enforcement of the Equal Employment Opportunity Act and its revision broadened the scope of women's career activities: the number of jobs available to them increased, and the ratio of women in managerial positions rose.

Nevertheless, as average figures for the labour force as a whole show, the gap between men and women remains wide. If the average wage for ordinary workers (excluding short-time workers) in 2013 was 100 for men, it was only 71.3 for women. The main reasons for this wage gap between men and women are the number of years of employment and position.

While the ratio of male workers employed in the same company for 15-19 years is 10.0%, the corresponding ratio for women is just 7.9%. And while the ratio of men employed in the same company for 20 years or more is 27.2%, the corresponding ratio for women is a low 13.1%. In addition, the ratio of women in managerial positions is 11.2%, which is substantially lower than in Western developed nations. In Japan, generally speaking, the longer workers are employed in the same company, the higher are their wages and the more likely they are to be appointed to managerial posts.

Women do not work as long as men because in many cases, faced with the difficulty of balancing work with housework, childcare, or nursing care, they choose to retire. Only about 17% of women having their first child opt to continue working and make use of the childcare leave system; around 60% continue the trend of quitting their jobs upon childbirth. In this regard, attitudes toward gender roles in the family need to be considered as well.

It has been pointed out that Japan's tax and social security systems also restrict the participation of women in society. Under the tax system, incomes up to 1.03 million yen a year are not taxed. Similarly, people with an annual income of less than 1.3 million yen do not have to subscribe to social insurance. Many short-time workers are housewives, and in many cases they adjust their working hours so that their income does not exceed the 1.03 million yen limit. There are other problems too. For example, many short-time workers only take jobs to supplement the household income, and the lack of training programs makes career formation difficult for them.

Because of problems stemming from corporate wage systems and employment management, there are few women in managerial positions. As well as reviewing methods of human resource development after recruitment and personnel evaluation, positive action is necessary to eliminate the causes of the gender gap. For this purpose, companies need to start by gaining a proper understanding of the present situation and identifying the problems.

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