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Leading The Way For Japanese Women In The Workforce

11/19/2015 12:57 EST | Updated 11/19/2016 05:12 EST

Thirteen per cent. That is the percentage by which Japan's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) could be boosted if the number of women in the workforce was raised to equal the number of working men. This 13 per cent comes from a Goldman Sachs report, which discusses a number of recommendations to improve Japan's low female labour participation and address the looming worker shortage, such as deregulating the child care sector, boosting female representation in government and creating a more flexible work environment. I would like to focus on an area that is less often discussed: leadership education.

Statistics say 60 per cent of working women in Japan resign when they have their first child. Maternity harassment (matahara/マタハラ) has heavily influenced this figure. Expecting mothers in Japan face workplace bullying, are pressured to choose between having a child or having a career and lack the support they need to make working a reasonable possibility. Men, on the other hand, rarely take paternity leave, fearing that doing so could hurt their chances for promotion or that they may lose their jobs. Japanese workplace culture can be quite ruthless.

How can leadership education help? Most people tend to think of leadership as a responsibility of a leader only. However, anyone can exercise leadership regardless of the position they are in; whether it be that of a leader or a follower. Simply put, leadership education is about building constructive relationships, as these help to boost confidence through accomplishing tasks and improving communication.

Pregnant women in Japan get accused of dragging down the team by putting a burden on colleagues when taking maternity leave. Leadership training helps to develop the confidence and communication skills to address situations like these. Entering into constructive dialogues with colleagues can contribute to building better workplace relationships and make female employees feel more of an essential part of the workplace. This in turn would help ignite the ambition and motivation to make having both a career and child work.

Of course, any type of harassment should be stopped, and both the government as well as companies should make a commitment to put better monitoring and reporting systems in place. But the government, companies, as well as schools and universities can do more to bring about a change in our workplace culture by focusing on leadership education, particularly in the context of work-life balance.

I appreciate Prime Minister's Shinzo Abe's womenomics programme, which encourages women's participation in the workforce, but more can and must be done for Japanese women who aspire to build successful careers, not just families.

By Yu Ogawa, delegate representing the Japan at the G(irls)20 Summit 2015 in Istanbul, Turkey. Yu majors in law at Soka University, Tokyo, Japan. Prior to Soka University, Yu exercised her leadership at Soka Women's College to democratically change the annual school schedule to improve the life-study balance. Through the process, she also involved over 500 female students and led school-wide discussions importance of accomplishing their personal goals. Through the experiences, importance of economic independence of women which encourages them to achieve their goals in Japan became clear to her.

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