Vol.33-No.09 September 1,1994
The Japan Institute of Labour
In 1985, Japan witnessed Diet passage of the Equal Employment Opportunity Law (EEOL) following a serious and bitter debate. The law went into effect the following year. At that time, some questioned the effectiveness of the EEOL. Later the employment situation for women changed at a pace far more rapid than had been expected. The media called the 1990s an era of women, making a ruckus about female employment, and women's advance into society based upon smoothly progressing careers. But now employment of women are in severe conditions.
The job picture, following collapse of the speculative bubble has swiftly shifted away from that of a severe labor shortage toward that of excess labor. In the midst of the economic slump, corporations are currently scrambling desperately to restructure themselves and female employment has become a major challenge. Women university students face a daunting job hunt as; companies are not so active as they once were in utilizing the potential of women... Examples of the grim employment situation facing women go on and on.
Of course, women are not the only ones victimized by the effects of the recession. Men as well and white-collar workers in particular, are also victims of the current slump. Even so, as symbolized by the difficulty of female university students in finding work, employment opportunities for women are deteriorating noticeably. What caused the smooth change underway in female employment following enactment of the EEOL? What did it mean? We now doubt that social change brought on by the EEOL, but rather the worker shortage provoked by what has come to be called the "bubble economy" was the motive power expanding employment opportunities for women.
It is not possible to precisely determine the effects of the EEOL from those of the bubble economy in women's advance into the workplace. The important question is whether or not the EEOL was the engine of sure changes to come for companies in accepting women. Another important thing is whether the changes that contribute to the promotion of female employment have occured in the environment surrounding companies and working women, such as the family, the regional community and the workplace. These changes, if bona fide, should maintain the major fundamentals of women's advance into the labor market even if the recession temporarily provokes severe employment conditions.
Admittedly, the bright employment picture is nowhere in sight. But reacting excessively to the bleak employment landscape is not the right thing to do. This is because behind expansion of female employment are the two major changes. On the one hand, socioeconomic change of industrial realignment-a greater share of the services in the economy and sophisticated information technologies; and on the other hand, changes in life style-diversifying values and attitudes toward work. The economic downturn slightly slowed the sweeping changes which were underway. Even so, the fundamental and underlying structure of female employment has not been altered. The shock was great because the economy slowed down while these changes were taking place.
In this paper, I will document recent trends in female employment with data and then consider future tasks, while focusing on expansion of the workplace.
2. Expanded Fields of Employment for Female
Let us first confirm what changes have occurred in the structure of women's occupations in recent years. In 1992, the number of employed women was 26.19 million, according to a Labor Force Survey conducted by the Management and Coodination Agency. Incidentally, the number of employed males was 38.17 million. Of the 26.19 employed women, 19.74 million were employees, accounting for 75.4 percent of the total. In 1987, there were 23.6 million women working, of whom 16.15 million were employees, making up 68.4 percent of the total. This indicates that in the 5-year period, women in the work force grew dramatically, and that female employees also increased sharply.
What is more, drastic changes have also taken place in job fields. Fig.1 shows trends in the number of female employees by occupation. The largest number of women are engaged in clerical work, accounting for one-third of all female employees. These are followed by craftspersons, manufacturing and construction workers, professional and technical workers, sales workers, protective service workers and service workers. The fact that most women are in clerical jobs is a common trend observable in many industrial countries; but the high ratio of women engaged in craftwork and manufacturing and construction work, it is safe to say, is one of the features of the occupational structure in Japan. The trends from 1982 and onward show a rise in the number of female workers in almost all occupations and a remarkable increase in females engaged in clerical jobs in particular. In contrast to the general growth in female workers, what is notable is that craftspersons and manufacturing and construction workers growth has been sluggish.
The ratio of women workers has topped 50 percent of the total in clerical and related jobs as well as in protective service and other types of service jobs. The ratio of women workers remains at the level of 30-40 percent in other occupations, excluding managers and officials and workers in transportation. Also, in many occupations, the ratio of women has grown when compared with that of 10 years ago. Female clerical workers have shown the largest increase in terms of the ratio of women to the total. With the ratio of women workers tending to rise in all other occupations, the ratio of women in professional and technical jobs, it should be noted, has declined.
As we have seen, women employees have steadily increased and have taken diverse jobs. Two points should be noted in forecasting future trends. One is in the trend of professional workers and the other regards managers and officials. Professional occupations were symbolic of women's advance into careers. Female professional workers have increased in number but have decreased in ratio, suggesting that professional opportunities have proportionally declined. Female managers and officials are extremely small in number and percentage alike. We have no choice but to conclude that women have yet to make headway into these areas. Let us further examine these two occupations.
Let us observe the trend in professional workers from a slightly different angle. Table 1 represents the occupation-wise composition of female 4-year university graduates. The rapid growth in the number of as well as changes in the composition of female employed persons are observable from the Table. Female 4-year university students have traditionally chosen to work, first, at professional jobs and second, at clearical and related jobs. In the period of the 10-plus years, howerer, they came to take on, first, clerical and related jobs, second, professional jobs and third, sales jobs. Looking at the composition of jobs in which professional women lost jobs during the period reveals that the declining number of school teachers is the main reason. The drop in the number of school teachers is ascribable to fewer children. Among those engaged in professional jobs, those in technical jobs have increased sharply. In short, it can be confirmed that technical work, a new professional area, as well as clerical and sales work, has been added to that of traditional professional jobs, thus expanding occupational areas for women with high education.
How about trends for women managers and officials, then? The delay in women's advancement into management posts has often been pointed out in Japan as well as in many other countries. But as shown in Table 1, the trend is especially evident in Japan. The low ratio of women in managerial positions in Japan is linked to human resource management in Japanese companies. The foremost cause is the difference in assignment and training between women workers, for whom long employment tenure cannot be expected, and men workers. The EEOL obviously made this the major point of contention. Elimination of sex-based discrimination in recruitment, assignment and training was discussed in drawing up the Law. It turned out, however, that the Law was extremely inadequate in this respect, and it is currently under review.
Indeed, the equality law incorporates inadequacies. It is also a fact, however, that a possitive change could be seen in the companies' response to the Law. The 1992 Survey on Female Employment Management, carried out by the Women's Bureau, the Ministry of Labour, showed that many companies assign both male and female workers to individual jobs in most areas, but with some exceptions. Over 80 percent of firms replied that they assign both men and women workers to personnel and planning jobs. In the fields of sales operations and R & D (research and development), however, the percentage of firms which assign both sexes dropped to 60 percent with a corresponding rise in those which assign only men workers to those areas. It is a fact that in corporate organizations, there are still many job areas which are not open to women. Yet women are gradually being assigned to those jobs which are male-dominated. The same survey found that of companies which assigned women workers to jobs which were traditionally male-dominated, 35.4 percent placed female workers in sales operation positions and 25.2 percent put them in supervisory and management positions. Furthermore, 18.8 percent assigned women workers as vehicle operators, such as truck drivers, and 9.6 percent placed them in such professional jobs as researchers, designers and systems engineers.
As we have seen, the job areas to which women are assigned are expanding within the corporate organizational structure. An increase in the number of female managers depends entirely on how women's ability is demonstrated amidst a widening of job fields. Eighty percent of sogoshoku women (women expected to do the same work as men) who are making it onto the management track said "I feel I can give full play to my ability," according to a recent survey by the Women's Bureau (A Survey Report on the Actual Situation of Sogoshoku Woman, 1993).
It is clear from this that women's advance into the career world has made great strides quantitatively as well as qualitatively in that more diverse job fields are open to them. It was thus confirmed that occupational fields for women are indeed expanding steadily. The employment situation after the rupture of the speculative bubble is admittedly not favorable, forcing women in particular to face tough job conditions. But as we have observed, seen from a span of these 10-15 years, employment of women is changing steadily. Steady change is occurring also in the organizational structure of companies, especially in the expansion of occupational fields open to women.
3. Job Fields Expected to Grow
In June 1994, the Ministry of Labour's Study Group Regarding Employment Policy announced a "Medium-term Employment Vision" showing its expectations for the job situation through 2000. The Vision was formulated to review employment policies, which had been based upon the expectation of a constraint on labor supply, in consideration of the significant change in economic climate following the burst of the speculative bubble. The Vision notes smooth progress in structural reform, such as deregulation, and consolidation of social capital which would enable Japan to achieve annual economic growth of about 3 percent and thereby to balance labor supply and demand in 2000. By industry, employment will shrink in agriculture, forestry and fisheries, manufacturing and wholesale and retail trades, but it will grow in construction and services, according to the forecast. The fields expected to grow are those linked to medical care and welfare, housing, information and communications, education and the environment, the report says. Such forecasts, whether mid-term or short-term, are frequently presented from various quarters, including government organs. They will certainly play an instrumental role in the formulation of policies at both the macro and micro level. These forecasts, however, are based on such uncertain factors as an economic growth rate and structural reform. Accordingly, it may not be productive to immediately surmise trends in individual fields from the actual results. Yet we should bear in mind that fields expected to expand in the coming years are those in which female labor is in demand. Such fields as medical care and welfare, housing, information and communications, education and the environment, provide women with an abundance of jobs in which they can make better use of their capabilities. In addition, with expansion of domestic demand and progress in deregulation industries related to these fields, which are closely tied to living and regional conditions as well as which are service-oriented, the need for women's abilities will clearly expand.
Thus, it is fair to say that future expansion of fields which place great hopes on women will work in favor of female employment. However, in order for the new environment to generate jobs for women, consolidating conditions which allow women to work with ease is a great task to be tackled. The worker shortage prompted an improvement in the working environment for women on the occasion of enactment of the EEOL. What if the recession today would turn the environment back to its former condition? This would leave the nation a great scar in future years. Now is the time for Japan to endeavor to create job opportunities and a working environment in which women can work with ease.
Amidst brutal restructuring, corporate employment management is undergoing dramatic changes. Especially, the seniority wage system and lifetime employment, which are the backbone of Japanese employment practices, it is said, are in the process of inevitable revision or change. Workers who are committed to senioritybased treatment premised on long employment tenure will not disappear from Japanese firms, but at least the clusters of these workers will be trimmed in significant numbers. On the contrary, it is predicted that those who consider their careers not according to the company but as occupational field will increase particularly among those engaged in professional jobs.
These changes can be regarded as working to the advantage of women as discrimination was at least in part based upon their lack of long tenure since they tended to stop working in midcareer because of marriage and childbirth. Thus, with the walls of long employment tenure, which is the biggest obstacle to active utilization of working women, now crumbling at least to some extent, there have emerged increased opportunities for women. Increasing, mobility of the work force, however, suggests that in terms of evaluation, ability as opposed to length of tenure and experience at the firm, will become increasingly important.
From now on, occupational fields in which women have special additions will expand. Amidst this environment, the extent to which women develop their abilities will depend upon training, skill enhancement and other advancement systems outside of the firm as well as how effectively women are able to take advantage of such systems.
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