Work-related Diversity in Japan: New Risks and Opportunities for Whom?
Research focus October 2015 - June 2019
This project is part of the DIJ research focus on Risks and opportunities in Japan – Challenges in face of an increasingly uncertain future. With the aim to shed light on what diversity and processes of diversification mean for contemporary Japan, the project examines the multifaceted implications of growing diversity in employment and workplace constellations for both the individual and Japanese society as a whole. In accordance with its inherent complexity, we approach the topic from a multidisciplinary perspective encompassing political science, psychology as well as media and literary studies.
Japan is often singled out as a particularly conservative country when it comes to employment structures and gender roles. Although many other countries are going through similar processes of diversification, the disruption is arguably nowhere as comprehensive as in the Japanese context where the male breadwinner model is deeply entrenched in society and politics, in business practices as well as in cultural representations. Yet, in recent years rising female labor market participation, a growing number of foreign workers and changes in the perception of work, to name only a few, have changed what work and employment mean in the Japanese context. Moreover, not least due to rapid demographic change, this is set to transform even more substantially in the near future. This research project seeks to illuminate the processes of diversification as well as their consequences.
Diversity has become a veritable buzzword in recent years, in Japan as elsewhere in the developed world. The term is widely used to subsume alleged and true commonalities of many different processes of structural change in contemporary societies. Hence, it features prominently in a multitude of discourses on topics as diverse as organizational leadership, government agency, or civil society institutions. At the same time, diversity also denotes a research concept for the analysis of differences and differentiations between individuals, and social groups that are delimited by gender, age, sexual orientation, health, or mental and physical ability, among others. In this sense, diversity proves applicable to all realms of social life.
Diversity and diversification can be constructed as opportunities or as risks, depending on the individual perspective of the stakeholders involved in discourse. On the one hand, it is often argued that well managed diversity can serve as a vehicle for higher motivation, performance, innovative potential, and ultimately satisfaction of individuals and organizations. A more critical reading, however, notes that diversity can also imply growing heterogeneity that causes or deepens social inequalities and conflict. Regardless of these differences in evaluation, there is a general consensus that diversification almost inevitably leads to considerable changes in work and employment constellations both in Japan and elsewhere. However, our understanding of these processes of change and their implications for highly developed societies is still limited.
This project examines how work-related diversity is reflected in public and political discourses, how it impacts institutional frameworks and the organization of work, and how individual actors and actor groups cope with related changes. The project thus aims to identify factors influencing the processes of diversification, as well as opportunities and risks that result from these processes. The multidisciplinary perspective facilitates the study of different dimensions of work-related diversification and makes it possible to tie together the results of different research approaches to increase our understanding of the implications of work-related diversification for contemporary Japan - and, in extension, for other highly industrialized countries.