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Toward a Society in which it is Possible to Select from Diverse Working Styles


Yumiko Sasaki
Labor and Social Security Attorney
President, Grace Partners Co., Ltd.

Seeds of awareness growing in my heart

Ever since I can remember, I have felt that something was strange—although women and men are said to be equal, isn’t reality different? I have always had this awareness.

When looking at Japanese society, important positions were occupied by men. The only professional women that I could think of were school teachers and doctors.

I was a precocious child who was in a hurry to reach adulthood and make my own decisions. Accordingly, I felt the need to establish myself in some sort of profession and become economically independent.

Before I knew it, I had developed a vision for a society in which women can express themselves and live freely. I wanted to do everything in my power in order to help create such a society.

After many twists and turns, I decided to take the national examination to become a labor and social security attorney. I made this decision because I felt the certification would be useful in my quest to create a better society for women.

Addressing employment issues facing women

Ever since I opened my consulting office in 2005 (I also established a corporation the following year), I have mainly been involved in personnel labor management for small-/mid-size companies and venture corporations. One reason that I focus on this area is that I want to improve current conditions in the companies, which lag behind major corporations in terms of managing female employment. Another reason is that I find it fulfilling to work closely together with managers in order to reform the employment environment.

When I first started consulting, the term of maternity harassment did not yet exist in Japan. It was common for women to quit their job once they became pregnant. Therefore, my first priority was to create an employment environment in which women can continue to work even after becoming pregnant and giving birth. I assisted women in receiving childcare leave benefits and other related benefits as a form of livelihood protection during their leave.

It is a great loss for corporations to lose experienced female workers due to childbirth. Previously, there were no social insurance premiums exemptions during pregnancy. Consequently, many executives were hesitant to offer maternity leave due to issues such as cost burden and lack of personnel. I met with these executives to explain that losing capable female employees would be a far greater loss.

On the other hand, some women consider quitting their job because they don’t want to cause trouble in their workplace by taking childcare leave. In response, I explained the social security system and benefit payments to such women. “It would be a waste to quit,” I said when urging them to continue working. “I know that you feel uncertain now, but I recommend that you keep your job.”

There have been amendments to many laws such as the Child Care and Family Care Leave Act and the Employment Insurance Act. Although many issues still remain, the employment environment surrounding women has been improved significantly in the past few years.

From working style reform to diversity management

When looking at the population composition of Japan in the future, a decrease in the working-age population is inevitable due to the declining birthrate and aging population. When in a demographic bonus period with an increasing population (such as during the period of high economic growth in postwar Japan), the market grows and GDP increases. However, Japan has entered a demographic burden period in which the Japanese economy will continue to worsen.

Nowadays, there is outcry for working style reform in Japan. The conventional Japanese employment system was a labor model composed mainly of male employees who accept transfers and long overtime hours in return for guarantees of lifetime employment. However, this model makes it difficult to balance work with life stages such as childcare or caregiving, and restricts employment opportunities for women.

The term of empowerment of women is often interpreted as implementing measures for women such as increasing the ratio of women in management positions. However, meaningful change can only be achieved by reforming the male working style which has been the prevalent labor model.

Moreover, the diversity of workers will continue to increase in the future. For example, there will be more non-Japanese workers due to globalization, more employees with disabilities, and more senior workers due to an ultra-aging society. Accordingly, it will become necessary to implement diversity management as a strategy for personnel utilization.

In order for Japan to increase productivity and achieve continuous employment, it is essential to achieve a society in which people can select from diverse working styles according to their individual circumstances—regardless of gender.

I view working style reform as an opportunity for Japan to achieve such a society, and to change the awareness of individual corporations and of society as a whole. My company will continue to work towards further increasing the number of corporations which offer flexible and diverse working styles.

Initiatives for lifework

In addition to these business activities, my company also holds Salon de Grace as an opportunity for working women to exchange information. Once a woman begins working, there is no one to provide information on important laws and systems related to employment. However, lack of such knowledge can result in disadvantages in the workplace or narrow the range of one’s life choices. This is a cause of concern for many women.

In response, I opened Salon de Grace as a place for women to receive consultation on their future career, working style, workplace concerns, and other related items. The Salon also enables women to study practical knowledge that is not taught in schools or companies, and to share information.

Many women have participated and shared a variety of concerns at the Salon. A wide range of themes are raised at our meetings, spanning everything from balancing work and child-raising to career changes, second/side businesses, personnel transfers, harassment, labor contracts, and social security.

In particular, Salon de Grace provides legal advice, encourages exchange of opinions among participants, and assists each woman in giving serious consideration to their future. Nothing would make me happier than to have even more women participate in the Salon and take their first step towards self-realization.

Salon de Grace

*The next Salon de Grace will be held on May 16.

Currently, only working women participate in the Salon. However, I feel that it is important for students to obtain knowledge on actual working rules and social security systems. Doing so will enable students to protect themselves and set an appropriate course for their future.

Personally, I will continue to pursue my life work in conjunction with my business. I look forward to pressing forward and accomplishing new things while being unfettered by conventional ways of thinking.
Yumiko Sasaki

Yumiko Sasaki is a personnel and labor consultant and a labor and social security attorney. She earned her MBA after completing the Chuo Graduate School of Strategic Management. She serves as President of Grace Partners Co., Ltd. and Representative Director of Grace Partners Labor Consulting Office.
After leaving a Japanese subsidiary of an American corporation, she worked at institutions such as labor and social security attorney offices. In March 2005, she founded Grace Partners Labor Consulting Office. In 2006, she established Grace Partners Co., Ltd. With a focus on small-/mid-size companies and venture corporations, she supports a variety of elements such as diverse working styles and management of personnel and labor. Her attentive and friendly consulting has won her a large patronage. Her written works include Everything You Need to Know on Labor Management and Social Insurance Procedures for Employment (Sotechsha Co., Ltd.), as well as the serial articles Are You Familiar with Work Rules at Your Company (Toyo Keizai Online) and Be Smart and Thrive in Your Workplace! Advice on Work Rules and Money (Nikkei Woman Online).