Date: Sat, 5 Sep 98 17:13:30 CDT
From: (Rich Winkel)
Organization: PACH
Subject: JAPAN: Women Face Harassment and Layoffs
Article: 42637
To: undisclosed-recipients:;;
Message-ID: <>

/** headlines: 120.0 **/
** Topic: JAPAN: Women Face Harassment and Layoffs **
** Written 12:59 PM Sep 4, 1998 by labornet in cdp:headlines **
/* Written 4:26 PM Sep 3, 1998 by in */
/* ————— JPN Women Face Downsizing&Harassmen ————— */

Report aims to end sex harassment

Asahi Shimbun, 3 September 1998

Aiming to stamp out sexual harassment among public workers, the National Personnel Authority on Wednesday published a report defining inappropriate behavior and highlighting practices that should be stopped.

The authority plans to draw up a set of regulations based on the report, which was drawn up by a committee headed by Seijo University law professor Akira Okuyama.

The report defines sexual harassment as words or behavior which offends others. Such behavior ranges from demanding sex from co-workers to forcing female office staff to serve tea or clean the workplace.

Ogling colleagues, forcing female employees to sit beside their bosses at social events and promoting male staff unfairly ahead of women are also deemed unacceptable.

In addition, women mocking men by calling into question their masculinity is also classified as sexual harassment.

The report says the guidelines should be observed at after-work parties as well as during office hours.

Each government ministry will be expected to draw up their own internal rules based on the regulations which the authority now plans to set out. Each ministry will also be urged to offer professional counseling to victims of sexual harassment.

The authority hopes to draw up its regulations by the time the revised Promotion of Equal Opportunity and Treatment between Men and Women in Employment and Other Welfare Measures for Women Workers Amendment of Labor Standards Law comes into effect next April. Women find themselves easy targets of restructuring

More women are complaining of being fired, told to quit, or forced into part-time status, says the operator of a Tokyo ‘office bullying hotline.’



In these harsh economic times, women are finding themselves being subtly shown the door with increasing frequency. And sometimes they are shoved right out.

A 37-year-old worker at a Japanese corporation affiliated with an American medical appliance manufacturer at first wondered if she were suffering from a persecution complex. But she soon concluded that she was indeed being harassed.

Last year, the woman was given a management position and began working on an assignment to draw up guidelines for treating an illness. Toward the end of the year, an additional assignment involving a different illness was piled on to her desk. She had to tackle both jobs, which required the reading of hundreds of pages of specialized literature in foreign languages, on her own. The task was impossible.

Around that time, the woman fell into her boss's bad books after using some of her vacation days to look after her father-in-law, whose senile dementia was progressing. As the wife of the eldest son, it had been her duty. Her husband's parents were living apart and her mother-in-law did not make an effort to visit her husband. The woman's husband was not in good health and could not be relied on.

According to the woman, she took the normal two days a week off from work but some days she worked intensely to leave early in the afternoon. She asked her boss to let her work from home via e-mail and facsimile for two to three weeks until the condition of her father-in-law steadied, and count the days as working days. But the reply came in the form of a notice of dismissal.

In February, she was summoned by the department head and others. Although we have been observing you, your record has not improved, they admonished her. There is no need for you to stay. A superior in his late 30s mentioned her absence from work and brushed off her explanation about her father-in-law. Family matters have nothing to do with this, he said, adding coldly that the company might be able to hire her for a part-time or temporary position.

Male bosses can ignore family matters because they are able to leave their own family to their wives, the woman said. I could not forgive them for thinking I could get by as a part-time worker just because I was married.

The woman consulted her labor union and chose to bargain collectively with her employer. But her efforts failed and she was dismissed at the end of July.

No job after birth leave

For another 37-year-old woman, who works for a U.S.-based manufacturer's office in Japan, things began to sour three years ago when she was about to take maternity leave to have her second child. Her boss, a bachelor in his 40s, said sharply, You know, you may not have any work to do when you return, and if you quit now you'll be able to get a stack of money. Back then her company was trying to reduce its staff by 2,000.

There were times when the woman, who had returned to work after having her first child, had to take days off from work to care for her sick child. But she was ambitious and loved her work, and she flatly refused to quit.

She later learned there were about 60 women in similar circumstances at the company, which trumpets its two-year child-rearing leave and consideration for female workers.

If you do not strongly believe in your job, you may end up choosing the easier path, said the woman regretfully.

According to the Tokyo Managers' Union, which has opened an office bullying hotline, the number of calls from female workers has been rising during the last couple of years. Many women complain that their companies have dismissed them, encouraged them to retire, or tried to switch them from regular positions to part-time or temporary status.

Easy targets

Yoko Kuroiwa, a lawyer who belongs to the Labor Lawyers Association of Japan, pointed out that there is a tendency for women to be dismissed more easily than men. Women who are trying to handle home problems are seen as inefficient and are easy targets, she said. Even in this competitive society, we must establish rules that allow some flexibility for family affairs.

Aki Fukoin heads a group of parents who are studying nurseries in Japan. Members are also gathering information on maltreatment at the office before and after taking maternity leave. Ten years ago, they said that the merit system would be a boon to female workers, Fukoin said. In reality, the rewards come less for the quality of the work and more with how much overtime one works and how much one devotes his or her life to the firm.

A women's eagerness may actually be held against her. Soon after joining a mid-sized cosmetics company, a 36-year-old worker submitted a report focusing on management of the sales staff. She thought that she had offered constructive opinions on improving the headquarters' policies. She also stressed her wish to gain practical business experience.

Her employers did not respond until early this year, when they told her to remain on standby at home, because the company hoped to slim down its staff.

The company was basically a mom and pop store that had grown in size. I guess they felt as if they were being criticized, she said.

But she is not discouraged.

I want to regard what happened as a valuable experience. You simply cannot live life without taking risks, she said.

Like the 37-year-old woman mentioned earlier, the woman who worked for the cosmetics company is currently bargaining collectively through her labor union. While remaining on standby, she has traveled, visited museums and taken Spanish lessons. The woman has also started to study labor law. I am not easily knocked down, she said.

The company needs you

One day in March, a 52-year-old accounting section chief of a Tokyo manufacturer left after 19 years.

She spent her final day like any other. Well, almost. She stopped working at 5:30 p.m., two to three hours earlier than usual, and swiftly packed her belongings into two cardboard boxes. As she made her rounds, thanking and saying goodbye to her colleagues, she was surprised by how serene she felt.

In February, her company had announced an early retirement program for 250 employees aged 40 or older. The official explanation was that the company hoped to recover losses incurred from an in-house scandal that had made the headlines.

At a meeting introducing the program to employees, the company did not utter a single word of apology, but merely asked for cooperation. She had been a member of the committee that had drawn up the restructuring plan, but was not happy about it.

When the woman joined the committee to advise the company, she herself was ready to quit in about a year to take responsibility as a manager. Yet she chose to quit earlier because as audacious it may sound, I had forsaken my company.

Back when the woman joined the company, women were relegated to a slower promotion path compared to their male colleagues. To prove that women also take their work seriously, she regularly worked overtime and at times even worked for three consecutive days without sleep.

It was only 10 years ago, a year after the Equal Employment Opportunity Law took effect, that the woman took an in-house exam and became a sogo-shoku (comprehensive staff member), a female worker who works and is treated like a male worker. Since then she has worked in accounting and taken a leading role in the computerization of the accounting systems, from the local offices to the factories.

When she submitted her letter of resignation, a managing director tried to persuade her to stay, reminding her how much the firm needed her. But the woman did not change her mind. The company did say that it would accept the resignation of anyone who wished to retire, right?

The woman was regarded as a mother figure who would stand firm against her superiors but was attentive to her colleagues. She did not change her ways until the end.

The woman doubts the sincerity of those who tried to persuade her to stay. The directors couldn't care less about the employees. They are just concerned about themselves, she said. As if to prove her point, only the president and an executive director have tendered their resignation. When the list of retirees was drawn up, it included those who had strayed from the ladder of promotion, and those who were capable but regarded as trouble.

Of the women who worked at the headquarters, only another 55-year-old section chief in general affairs retired on her own accord. In her case, the head of her department was insensitive enough to tell her, I would quit if I were you.

Her superior was apparently implying that the woman had long worked with high-ranking directors who had stepped down. Yet it seemed not to occur to the department head that he, himself, should quit. The same man, who had buttered up the former president just a short while ago, turned around to ingratiate himself with the new president. She could not stand such offensive behavior.

The former accounting section chief had another reason to forsake the company. To win recognition, the spirited woman had worked twice as hard as the men. But one day she realized that she had acquired the characteristics of a regular oyaji (middle-aged man). The two women, who had signed up for the retirement program, happen to be unmarried. Looking around, she realized that none of the women who worked under the comprehensive staff status were married.

Just when she was beginning to question her situation, she had a chance to meet new people at a local women's center. She began thinking about women and work and slowly nurtured hopes of pursuing a job that supported women.

Her retirement package amounted to about 7 million yen, and she still has to pay the mortgage on her house. Since her unemployment insurance is valid only until the fall, she will eventually have to start looking for a job. She hopes to stay away from accounting, and has told the local public employment security office that she is seeking a general clerical position.

The woman is aware that things will not be easy, considering the poor economy and her age. Yet far from disheartened, she regards her situation as a new step.

Positive thinking

When Masako Watanabe, a 48-year-old manager of the Japanese subsidiary of a Swiss pharmaceutical and chemical manufacturer, heard a couple of years ago about the parent company's plans for job cuts, she took it calmly.

Watanabe told herself that if she were in good health and kept a positive attitude, she could cope with any situation.

Since she joined the company, Watanabe mainly worked in the field of personnel affairs. When she was 42, she moved to the subsidiary and acquired skills in marketing and other fields.

Making good use of her experience, Watanabe left the company and set up her own firm last April. Although the company has yet to be registered, it plans to offer a variety of services, including conducting interviews of prospective employees, organizing company education and training sessions, marketing, and import sales.

Today the tide is turning from an age when individuals were totally subject to organizations, to a time when they can advance on their own. Naoyuki Ishibashi, who heads an Osaka-based headhunting company, stressed that people should realize that only they can take responsibility for their lives.

Compared to men, who are more unable to discard their pride, women have an easier time at taking that first important step, said Ishibashi.

Hard times are not the end. They present opportunity.