Thursday, March 29, 2018

Male-Centric Japanese Construction Industry

"He yelled at me and asked why a woman was doing the work. I was mortified."
"I always think it's clearly an idea thought up by men [pink toilets with floral patterns to make women feel more at home in a industrial environment]."
"I think the government should simply pursue things that would make it easier for both women and men to work."
"I used to dream about going back to the field [engineering]. But now, I leave it up to the younger generation [of women]."
Maho Nishioka, 46, diversity promotion office, human resources, Shimizu Corporation, Tokyo

"There are still plenty of men who don't want to take orders from women."
Junko Komorita, chief executive, Zm'ken, contractor, southwestern Japan

"You can make the work seem glamorous, but many women end up quitting when they see it for what it is."
Natsuko Fukuyoshi, 32, plasterer, Tokyo

"There's definitely this image of construction being a macho industry."
"But I heard that more women were joining, and I always dreamed to be one of them."
Yuho Nakamura, 25, structural work supervisor, Shimizu, Tokyo
Image result for japan, recruiting women in construction industry
Japan Wants More Women in Construction Industry

Back when Maho Nishioka, having gained her engineering degree, showed up at her new job at a construction site where she was meant to supervise work at the site, the workers refused to talk to her, let alone obey her professional instructions. An angry client once insisted she stop inspecting a bridge, despite that she was the sole engineer on site qualified to do so.

In Japan, female workers are underemployed and underpaid. Unsurprisingly, that male bastion of employment, the construction industry has distinguished itself by being the unfriendliest toward women attempting to enter the field. Twenty years after Ms. Nishioka's first day on the job, the construction industry has embarked on a marketing campaign to convince Japanese women that construction work might be beneficial to their plans for satisfying employment.

The industry is in a steep decline, experiencing its most serious labour shortage in years. Now, both government and industry have set out to convince women that construction work is calling out to them; the goal, to double the number of women in construction. Long hours and relatively low wages, however, hamper the drive. Which has led government to create a website to convince young women how interesting various positions in construction might be for them.

The website links to a cartoon showing a woman wearing a pink, heart-patterned uniform, holding a pink, heart-shaped welding mask. Ridiculous it may seem, even to prospective industry workers, but then the Japanese are inordinately fond of cutesy cartoons. Female workers have been provided with portable toilets and dressing rooms; you guessed it -- coloured pink and elaborated with floral patterns.

The country's public outreach includes awarding public works projects to certain companies employing women, hiring consultants to hold seminars for construction executives, and taking surveys of female workers. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe calls the women-in-the-workplace efforts, "Womenomics", encouraging companies to promote diversity and promote female managers. One might think he had taken lessons from Canada's Justin Trudeau!

Over three-quarters of working-age women are now in the Japanese labour force. Four years into the drive to double female construction engineers and skilled laborers to 200,000 by 2019, the rise has been disappointing, since women represent only 3 percent of the workforce in the industry. Despite labour shortages, construction workers earn 25 percent less than their peers working in other industries, and women in construction earn 30 percent less than their male counterparts.

Ms. Nakamura, 25, hopes to someday oversee an entire building site as a supervisor. Of the 300 workers at the construction site in Tokyo where she works, however, she is most often the only
woman to be seen around.


Irene C. Herrera for The New York Times

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