I decided to interview a current female government worker, who has had experience working in both the parliament and intergovernmental economic organisations like the OECD. The reason why I chose to undertake this engagement was because she had had experience working both government jobs in Paris and Japan, and could offer a clear contrast in areas where Japan could improve in their gender inequality related issues. I also found her statements to be particularly interesting because she previously had held a ‘top’ (or managerial) position in her department so she knows how the public sector and government-related jobs work.
What I found particularly interesting about what she shared with me is the differentiation of gender inequality issues within the hierarchy of government jobs. She explained how upon employment, each worker would be put into an elite, middle-class or lower-class position that would dictate their future career path within this job until retirement. When she first joined the company, she, herself did not face any discrimination being a woman but she saw other women in lower positions going through a more difficult time. She explained that “men in the middle classes have been seen to look down on women in the lower classes to feel more superior.” She explained further that in Japanese society, it seems that women in more professional specialised work are on the whole, given more opportunities but women that are not aiming for top positions do not receive the same respect and do face some gender-related issues in the workplace. This made me understand how society is divided in Japan in more ways than one, and how class and gender-related issues can be linked to a greater extent.
She also went on to explain how the reason why her job has run so smoothly is primarily because of people in the past (20 years ago) that established structures within the office for women to thrive. By explaining a direct example of one of her former superiors (a woman that was one of the pioneers for the Equal Opportunity Law that was created in 1986), she explained to me how their intellect and ability to work efficiently has made people understand the true value of women in the workplace. One main thing she focused on was the need for diversity in the workplace (in all forms – not just men and women) for Japanese society to move forward with new ideas and innovation. This allowed me to connect this knowledge to some that I had learned from previous engagements about the need for increased diversity in Japan. She explained how in this digital age, it is important that we start to break the walls of culture by not necessarily getting rid of unique cultures but respecting them alongside accepting and adapting to global values.
Her take on Japan’s society and how it can be improved by establishing more work-life balance was very refreshing. She explained how there was a need for more support for working mothers and more encouragement in education systems to motivate young women to become future leaders. One of the reasons why women political involvement is so low is because women do not aim for these jobs. We need more discussion on why this is the reason and redefining what happiness means to an individual. She did, however, mention that happiness is subjective and individuals should be given the freedom to decide what is their happiness (whether that is being married and becoming a housewife, or working hard in a career or achieving both.)
* The link to the transcript from the meeting can be found here. A picture of the interview was not approved to be shown as the interviewee would like to remain anonymous