Commentary

What womanomics means to Japan’s Ms Watanabes

Published: 4:02 AM, June 7, 2013
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Ms Watanabe, age 40, is hesitant. Her mother, Mrs Watanabe, is known for moving the world’s markets with the financial trading that occupies her breaks from housework.

Mrs Watanabe is the generic name for Japan’s housewife speculators, who have wielded significant influence on foreign exchange and other markets through their trading. After graduating from university, Mrs Watanabe quit her job when she married Mr Watanabe (who worked in the same office), became a housewife and raised one daughter. She did this because, in Mrs Watanabe’s day, marriage was the final workplace.

Times are different for her daughter, Ms Watanabe, who majored in economics at a well-known university and was hired by an established trading firm. But even though she outperformed the men in her recruitment class academically, she was unable to compete for a promotion.

She did not even have an official business card, which is more important than a passport in Japan; she had no choice but to make one on her computer.

She resolved to hone her skills by following her mother’s example. After work, she would attend night school to become an international accountant. She did not like going out drinking with colleagues to complain about their boss; communication through drinking neither improved one’s skills nor helped one to rise through the ranks.

UNEQUAL OPPORTUNITY

Ms Watanabe’s story illustrates a remarkable disparity. While productivity in Japanese factories is the highest in the world, owing to robots and other types of automation, the productivity of Japan’s white-collar workers is the lowest among OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries.

In 1999, Japan’s Equal Employment Opportunity Act was amended to provide equal employment opportunities for men and women by prohibiting discriminatory labour practices. But the legislation has had little impact on the workplace environment for women.

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