In spite of the well-publicized push by the government to get women to return to work after having children, the fact remains that there are barriers for women that make returning to work extremely difficult. The disparity between the idea and reality is a vice that many women find themselves in.
JMRN has recently discussed many of the cultural obstacles that women face within the workplace, but what about the obstacles that women face trying to get back to the workplace after having kids?
Lack of Childcare for Working Moms
The government can push all it wants, but it is not seeing the real issue. The fact is there are many women who want to go back to work, but they can’t get their kids into child care. Entering a public Japanese daycare recognized by the government (ninka) is an extremely difficult. The waiting lists in Tokyo alone are in the thousands. Private daycare can be exorbitantly expensive and out of reach for many families. In addition, if you are one of the fortunate few to get a coveted spot at one of the ninka centers, their limited business hours and closure on weekends and national holidays still make it difficult to work full time at a regular job.
Professional Women Returnees are Underutilized by Traditional Companies
In addition, close to 60% of women quit their jobs after giving birth because the long hours required at most Japanese companies make it almost impossible to return full-time. In search of flexible hours, many women find themselves in part-time or contract positions where they are unable to work to their full potential and use the skill sets that they’ve studied for and accumulated over their years as professionals. This leaves them in a compromised position where they find they are unsatisfied by their work life.
Women Entrepreneurs Step in with Solutions for Working Moms
It’s obvious that women who want to return to work while managing a family need flexible solutions that will allow them to handle two jobs, that of mother, and that of an employee. While change is happening, it is painfully slow. But this is where smart female entrepreneurs who have recognized this dilemma are stepping in with innovative services to fill in the gaps where the government and corporations are failing. From childcare to work placement, these Japanese women entrepreneurs are making waves with startups that provide services for working Japanese women who find traditional opportunities lacking.
Tsunezawa Kahoko’s Kidsline Provides Childcare Solutions for Working Moms
Entrepreneur Tsunezawa Kahoko attracted a lot of attention when she founded Trenders, a marketing company targeting women. Her company did well, but after Kahoko had children, she learned on the frontlines how difficult it was to balance her career and take care of her family. As one of her three kids had an incurable disease, she actually considered the fact that she may have to give up working altogether.
Kahoko managed to take care of her children with the help of family members and babysitters and she was able to care for her sick daughter until she passed away at the age of four. But the experience inspired her to find solutions for other women who couldn’t find childcare or had to care for sick children and work.
Even though her firm Trenders was listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange Mothers Section in 2012, she left the firm to create a solution for women who struggled like she had. She wanted to create an opportunity for women to view child rearing as a pleasure instead of a burden: Kidsline incorporates IT solutions to match families in need of childcare with carefully selected and trained babysitters. Customer feedback shared by registered users helps Kidsline maintain a high quality level.
Babysitting services are available for infants through 15 years old. By using university students as tutors for older kids, mothers feel better about leaving their teens alone knowing that they are with tutors who can meet them at school, help them with homework and even eat dinner with them.
Kidsline even contracts with businesses who can now offer babysitting as an employee perk. Kahoko says she also has arrangementments with several municipalities that have agreed to offer subsidies for Kidsline clients. With a staff of 30, mostly IT engineers with families who want to use their skills to benefit society, Kahoko hopes to expand Kidsline throughout Japan, and perhaps abroad.
Miwa Tanaka’s Waris Addresses Work Solutions for Working Moms
Miwa Tanaka interviewed a lot of women in Japan during her career as a writer and editor for Nikkei Women. She discovered how difficult it was for women to continue working after having children. The long hours required by traditional Japanese companies made it impossible for working mothers with limited hours to continue their careers.
Tanaka says that the March 11th earthquake was a wake-up call for her. She realized that this one life is all you get. When she thought about her future and her career, it prompted her to ask herself what she really wanted to do. She decided that she really wanted to do something to support women who want to keep working.
Tanaka knew that one of the problems women who return to work have is that they are not given responsibilities on par with their skill set. The gap in their career created by having children works against them when evaluated by the HR departments of traditional Japanese companies. They are often stuck with unfulfilling positions.
Tanaka created Waris as a solution for women who want to match the skill sets they studied for and accumulated throughout their professional careers to companies and startups that need them. Waris also seeks to accommodate working mothers who need flexible schedules and want to freelance.
Waris has 35,000 female clients that they match with companies, 70% of which are startups that support flexible working styles. Tanaka believes that although change is slow, hatarakikata-kaikaku (workstyle reform) is happening from the ground up. While Waris has attracted a lot of press and they advertise on social media, their biggest marketing draw has been word of mouth. More and more people are seeking to work part-time, flextime and on limited contracts to support their lifestyles.
In addition to job matching, Waris provides consulting services to Japanese companies that need to promote diversity. In Japan, diversity in the workplace generally equates to women’s empowerment and how to accommodate the needs of working moms. The workshops Waris provides try to encourage corporations to integrate flexible working styles. However, according to Tanaka, becoming a freelancer or an entrepreneur are better career paths for women because “you can decide anything you like.”
Unfulfilled Needs Create Opportunities
Finding childcare and work opportunities are clearly on the frontlines of the battle for Japanese women who are trying to get back to work. But once working moms find themselves settled, they have other needs that result from the time crunch they experience on a daily basis trying to balance these two spheres.
Japanese women entrepreneurs are finding opportunity where there is lack in these areas as well. For example, Sharedine, created by working mom Hikari IIda, is a service that sends chefs to homes to prepare custom healthy meals that can be refrigerated and served later. Maiko Takada launched Maffice—a share office with day-care for remote workers and freelancers to be able to work without distractions.
While the focus intensifies in the government and media on just how to get women back into the workforce, women are succeeding in finding solutions to the problems they face themselves. Lack of cultural and governmental support is opening up opportunities for female entrepreneurs who recognize the unfulfilled needs of other women in their position. It’s the epitome of organic startup culture in Japan, and it’s beautiful to watch.
Image under CC by: Jason Goh