4 keys to improving Japanese women’s productivity

David Atkinson, a former Goldman Sachs Japan partner who now runs Konishi Decorative Arts & Crafts in Tokyo, regularly features in the Japanese media, most recently in an article in the Toyo Keizai about why Japanese women’s productivity is so low.  He argued that the usual reason given, that women are poorly paid because they are in part time, temporary or short term contract jobs is simply pointing to the effect rather than the cause of low productivity.  Women’s low rates of pay reflects their low productivity.  This is because women are not given high value added work to do and their potential is poorly evaluated.  He argues that Japanese women’s productivity needs to improve because

1) they receive as much welfare as men do, so should contribute equally to the funding of that welfare

2) a declining population means those in work need to be as productive as possible to support the increasingly elderly, non-working population

3) Japan’s resistance to immigration as a means of increasing the working population means that the only alternatives are either to cut welfare or increase productivity.

The journalist who interviewed Atkinson, Renge Jibu, in a follow up article, recommended the 4 following actions for Japanese management:

  1. Make clear the costs of hiring and developing employees, by analysing the status of male and female employees with the same level of education and training 5, 10 or 20 years on.  They might find that women who they thought had left to raise a family are now in similar jobs in other companies or have joined a start up where they saw more opportunities.  This represents a cost to the company in terms of the loss of investment in initially hiring and training them.
  2. Recognise that there is a loss of opportunity in giving easier work to women with the same potential as men.  Giving women employees less productive work is a cost.  It’s like having a new computer and yet never connecting to the internet to do your work.
  3. If you realise that you are not making good use of your female employees, give them more difficult, higher value adding work to do.  Japanese companies are good at reassigning people rather than firing them. One major company reassigned its female administrators to sales roles when they were no longer needed thanks to office automation and was surprised to find that their sales results improved far more than they expected, so gave even more work to those women who showed willing.  They are now one of the most highly rated for gender diversity in management.
  4. The reason women often don’t want to do difficult work is the result of many years of being treated differently to men – and this should be recognised.  It takes a change of attitude on both sides to make a difference.



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