As businesses in Japan brace for an inevitable labor shortage, employers there might look to a major segment of the Japanese population for at least part of the answer—highly qualified Japanese women who voluntarily “off-ramped” from their careers for a couple of years but now want to work again.
Today, the Center for Work-Life Policy officially released a report entitled Off-Ramps and On-Ramps Japan: Keeping Talented Women on the Road to Success during an event held at Goldman Sachs’Tokyo offices.
In it, the authors revealed that three out of every four (74 percent) highly qualified Japanese women who work voluntarily leave their jobs. In comparison, that number is 41 percent in the U.S. and 35 percent in Germany. That’s pretty huge difference!
But the findings also dispelled the commonly held view that these women who left their jobs do so for the long haul. Instead, the study found, their desired break from work is pretty short, just 2.4 years, and that about 77 percent of those who left actually want to return to the workforce. Sadly, because of a range of re-entry barriers, only 43 percent succeed (with many who do accepting lower paying jobs).
The story line here is that there’s “a tremendous waste of talent,” says Sylvia Ann Hewlett, president of the Center for Work-Life Policy and one of the report’s authors.
“Here’s a country heading into a demographic crisis, with lower birth rates and people living a lot longer,” points out Hewlett, who spoke to me earlier today from Tokyo. “[In such an environment], companies can’t simply throw away two-thirds of their female talent and get away with it.”
The findings also suggest a huge opportunity for European and U.S.-headquartered multinationals with operations in Japan. Many of the women indicted they’d prefer to work for these foreign concerns, with nearly seven out of 10 respondents (68 percent) viewing these companies as being much more women-friendly than their Japanese counterparts.
In light of this, you might think European and U.S. multinationals would be poised to take full advantage of this opportunity. But apparently not.
At the event, Hewlett says, a number of U.S. multinationals indicated that they weren’t doing nearly enough when it comes to positioning their companies as potential employers for the workforce segment. Which, in Hewlett’s opinion, is unfortunate. “It could be a real differentiator,” she says.
But perhaps that may soon change, as more studies like this one come to light.