Providing a range of opportunities for women and utilisation of female workers’ skills and abilities in the economy have been crucial agendas in Japanese society. However, in many Japanese companies there has been little advancement of female workers into the core sphere of management. This presentation discusses factors that have facilitated and inhibited women’s career development in Japanese companies. It is based on the qualitative data of personnel management practices and women’s experiences drawn from several cases of Japanese companies from the mid-1980s to the present. The research found that companies’ primary concern was to employ talented people from among available pools of candidates, and in this regard, the Japanese employment market is still formed centring on new male graduates from high profile universities. Consequently, the companies’ employment policies and practices towards women within gendered structures in the organisation are greatly influenced by their positions in the employment market. From this examination of women’s experiences, in addition to the factors analysed in previous studies, such as opportunity structure for career development and gender norms and values in companies, other factors that have enabled women to achieve the requisite length of service to become a manager were found to be crucial in understanding women’s career development paths. These factors are: 1) changes in women’s motivation to work; 2) their acceptance and adoption of gender norms in the organisation; and 3) a long-term intention to establish their careers in the organisation. By presenting the findings from the cases and drawing the above discussions together, this presentation invites an active discussion on women’s career development in Japanese economy and society.
Dr Kuniko Ishiguro is a research associate at the Institute of Social Science, the University of Tokyo. She teaches East Asian Business at Musashi University, Tokyo, and her research focuses on human resource management, employees’ career development, and gender relations in companies. Currently she is conducting international comparative studies on women’s career development in private companies.