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Creating a society where women can shine

The Yomiuri Shimbun

(From left to right) Atsuko Muraki, Haruno Yoshida

The Yomiuri Shimbun Last year saw the enforcement of a law to promote the active engagement of women in society, with momentum growing to support their participation. But there remain many obstacles, including the number of children on day care center waiting lists and long working hours. What should be done to create a society where working women can shine more? We sought advice from two women who have top management experience in the private and public sectors.

Improving office environment, working hours an urgent task

Atsuko Muraki

Former administrative vice minister of the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry

When I first had subordinates, I felt assured that there was absolutely no difference in the abilities of men and women. Companies lose out if they do not train female employees. How to nurture women to be capable of taking managerial positions is important.

In the case of a woman raising children with support from her parents, it is all right to assign her hard tasks. Subordinates can improve their abilities if their superiors put a load on them while listening to their personal situation. If they think a job is worthwhile, they will try their best in future tasks as well.

The biggest factor that hinders women’s advancement in society is long working hours. Even for jobs that women think are worthwhile and there are opportunities for promotion, long working hours will become a barrier if they think of how their life and family should be.

In 2014, elite female bureaucrats in their 30s said out loud, “We can’t keep working in a style built on the premise of long working hours.”

It was a meaningful event in the sense that women currently raising children by themselves called for establishing “a system that allows workers with children or the elderly in need of care to work in the first group.” They said they are prepared to work under such a system.

This led to the proposal called “work style reform in Kasumigaseki,” released in June last year, which reviews the work styles of national civil servants, including the active introduction of telework.

Creating an environment in which people can work comfortably is also an urgent task. Nowadays, in addition to national civil servants, some private companies have begun to introduce a system that allows their employees to take leave when their spouse is transferred. I heard that in the United States, a government body has a system that allows its employees to move with their spouse when they are transferred. Such consideration is desirable, as those employees can continue their careers.

The problem of children on day care center waiting lists must also be given the highest priority. First and foremost, it is important that local governments build day care centers in a systematic way. I think it would be good if companies increase the number of day care centers on their premises.

I believe that women with families who are raising children and also working are welcomed by society today. They do not have to be “sorry” or hesitate to take leave and use a short working hour system. However, I hope that they will do their best.

(This interview was conducted by Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer Yoko Tanimoto.)

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After joining the former Labor Ministry in 1978, Muraki was involved in drawing up policies for the disabled and women. She served as the administrative vice minister from 2013 to 2015. She is currently serving as an outside director of Itochu Corp., among other positions. She is 61.

Increase the number of role models for women

Haruno Yoshida

President of BT Japan Corp.

I feel that people’s consciousness and the social climate have greatly changed in Japan in recent years, during which the active participation of women in society has been sought. The enthusiasm of women is remarkable and management is promoting women’s career activities more earnestly.

In Japan, the roles and responsibilities of men and women were clearly separated in the past, with men focusing on working for a living while women managed the household. This led to Japan’s growth. On the other hand, it seems that women’s advancement in society was delayed due to their strong sense of responsibility for managing their households.

Japan is facing a population decrease, and for the nation to grow further, it is necessary for both men and women to work hard together. Technological advancement has made life easier, improving the environment for women to work comfortably.

Working is the most enjoyable form of self-expression. However, there are various forms of work, so working in a company is not the only option for women to actively participate in society. Regarding the balance between family life and work, there are women who think an even split is good, while there are also women who want to place priority on their family life. What works varies from person to person.

In order for women to search for and choose their own unique lifestyles from various choices, it is necessary to increase the number of role models that women follow.

My taking an executive position at the Japan Business Federation (Keidanren) provides one such role model. As chair of Keidanren’s Committee on Gender Diversity, I help female directors form networks. I also organize seminars for candidates for managerial positions. From the twinkle in the eyes of women I meet on those occasions, I can say without hesitation, “These women can do it.”

I don’t really like the expression “glass ceiling,” which is used to mean a hindrance to women’s advancement in society, because this phrase sounds like women are creating the limit by themselves. I often tell women I meet that “the glass ceiling is actually a touch panel” — if you make a decision by yourself and extend your hand [to the touch panel], the ceiling will open up.

(This interview was conducted by Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer Shuji Ogo.)

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After working at companies such as a telecommunications firm in Canada, Yoshida took up her current position in January 2012. In June 2015, she became the first woman to hold an executive post at Keidanren. She is 52.Speech

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