Addressing the ‘soft’ factors in overcoming gender inequality in the workplace

A major problem in Japan and other developed countries is how gender equality ‘on paper’ often veils a far more entrenched set of issues hindering progress in the challenge to overcome gender inequality in the workplace. These are post-legal equality issues: ‘soft’ factors, including cultural attitudes and institutional conservatism–factors which serve to perpetuate gender inequality in the workplace. Aside from constituting a social issue, the inability to incorporate women in the workplace exerts a severely negative effect on economic performance as a large portion of women’s potential is left unused. This is a problem especially for Japan, an economy which is already limping with a shrinking and ageing population.

The recognition of ‘soft’ factors as an obstacle to gender equality in the workplace goes hand in hand with the idea that enabling women’s participation should be addressed proactively, rather than just neutrally. This contention is also expressed in a report co-authored by the World Economic Forum and McKinsey published last year on how to close the gender gap in Japan, which includes suggestions on mentoring, training and leadership programs as possible “soft interventions.” Another set of examples are given in a a recent World Economic Forum post, where Ernst & Young CEO Mark Weinberger suggests proactive initiatives including reaching out to women, creating a culture of inclusion and considering how women’s potential can be enabled at all levels of the organization.

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