Fathering
Innovation

The secret to increasing women in
management and corporate competitiveness

On May 24, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce in Japan (CCCJ) Global Diversity Management Committee invited its members to a lunch seminar at the Embassy of Canada to Japan in Tokyo.

The guest speaker was Professor Jackie F. Steele of the Graduate School of Law at Nagoya University, who is also the founder of en-joi Diversity & Inclusion Consulting and Training and a CCCJ governor. She offered a Japanese-language talk that blended her policy and research expertise on women’s leadership and diversifying organizations with best practices for building inclusive corporate cultures.

EMPOWER FATHERS

Steele moved to Japan in 1997 and worked for a municipal government in rural Nagano Prefecture. Drawing on experiences there, in Sendai and Tokyo, Steele illustrated how Japanese companies have denied men, in rural communities and modern cities, the time for fathering. Some 22 years ago, her male colleagues did not feel entitled to take time off for parenting duties or caring for a sick toddler. Steele was struck by the fact that most salarymen did not have any freedom to adjust their working hours. Most delegated family responsibilities to their wives, while few questioned the long workday and after-hours drinking obligations.

Steele shared her new concept of “father’s empowerment” and suggested that men, women and corporations stand to gain if companies supported fathers’ empowerment.

Using the words chichi (father) and katsu (activation or empowerment), Steele invited us to think beyond the Womenomics strategy of solving all economic problems with women’s employment — josei no katsuyaku. Inviting a “fathering innovation,” Steele’s chichi katsu includes caregiving, childrearing and the division of unpaid roles in the household. It invites a shift towards viewing men as life partners and co-parents within the household, who share the ethical, emotional and caregiving responsibilities with their spouses.

The country still needs a dramatic shift in consciousness.

LEARNING CHANCES

Since then, things have progressed, but the country still needs a dramatic shift in consciousness. Steele put forward a bold observation: to achieve women’s liberation and gender equality, Japan needs to address the issue of “men’s liberation” from outdated white-collar norms.

She noted that, since World War II, the number of female workers has rapidly in-creased, such that in most households, women are shouldering the responsibilities of traditional male roles. Yet, the reverse trend — men taking on homemaking and childrearing in the family — has not occurred to the same degree. Japanese women face extreme pressures both at home and in the workplace, while the expectations and contributions of men within the home remain strikingly low.

This is where a great learning opportunity for leadership and innovation is being lost, Steele pointed out. As mothers take on the journey of caregiving and educating children, they learn how to develop relationships with children, in-laws, schools and neighbours. They learn to collaborate with various actors in society and this fosters the development of judgement, interpersonal and communication skills, emotional intelligence and self-awareness — crucial qualities for top leadership in companies.

Caregiving and homemaking are training grounds for emotional agility, resilience and personal ethics. If Japanese men fail to experience these opportunities for personal growth and innovation, then by dropping out of care-giving and childrearing, they miss out on important life experiences essential for senior leadership roles at work. Companies likewise miss out on the chance to hire men with self-confidence, judgement and collaborative abilities born out of personal leadership experiences gained in the family.

Steele believes that, to improve gender equality, the economy, issues surrounding declining birthrates and the quality of life for families in Japan, top companies must actually lead the way to make it easier for fathers to be empowered caregivers and to share the overall responsibilities for family happiness and wellbeing.

This way, women’s disproportionate emotional load will be rebalanced so that women can pursue heavier management responsibilities within corporations. It will lead to egalitarian male colleagues and more empathetic husbands who value the unpaid homemaking roles women have historically performed.

Steele’s seminar provided a valuable opportunity for participants to discuss the challenges facing the Japanese economy, to see the need to evolve corporate cultures, and to consider possible solutions that can unleash greater agility, innovation and meaningful productivity for men, companies and families.