Redefining How We Work. A System for Connecting "Life" and "Work" Created by Women
Expanding Options for Women to Work
Japan has long been lagging behind other countries in terms of gender equality, but the situation is beginning to improve. For example, companies have for some time been required to provide maternity leave, childcare leave, and other benefits. These developments have had an interesting side effect; interactions with other mothers and people in the community during childcare leave encourages women to pay more attention to the community around them, leading to an increasing number wanting not only to have a job but also to be able to work in the area they live in, rather than spending hours on a train commuting.
Now garnering attention is the creation of organizations and systems that utilize the perspectives of women who hold attachment to the areas in which they live and have local insight on. For example, disaster prevention measures can benefit from the viewpoints of the women living in an area, helping with the distribution of hygiene products and ensuring privacy, as well as contributing to crime prevention and safety measures.
The Tokyo Metropolitan Government is encouraging the regional work activities of women by presenting the Women's Participation Promotion Award to companies and other organizations that are engaged in such promotion. Polaris, a non-profit corporation that won the award in the Regional Division in FY2019, has created various services including one that provides real estate companies with women's perspectives on local communities and lifestyles, and is developing several community-based businesses.
The company's founder, Ichikawa Nozomi, also turned her attention to working in her community after giving birth and raising a child. Looking back on those days, she says, "'At first, I volunteered in the community, but then I reaffirmed the importance of getting paid for my work. Even if just via a small business, I wanted to increase the amount of work-style options within the market framework and create different options from those we've had before, so I launched a corporate organization."
In launching the business, she recruited hundreds of childrearing mothers who were available to work limited hours to form workshare teams and took on projects contracted by companies. However, even within the classification of "childrearing mothers", people are naturally of different mettle, each with their own way of working and approach to deadlines. The teams therefore initially struggled to function well.
Creating Systems to Make the Most of Diversity is Key
The issue they landed on was "creating systems." As they identified the differences in each person's character, they devised systems that would enable the diverse array of women to work as a team. "I feel like we are creating a culture of communication based on the premise of individuals being different, rather than asking people to guess what others are thinking," says Ichikawa.
Polaris is now applying this know-how to its organizational development and other projects together with a variety of people, including not only childrearing mothers, but also people working multiple jobs, retired seniors, and those living in rural areas.
Due to COVID-19, many have refrained from commuting into the city center and have been teleworking at home or from other locations. Spending more time in the areas where they live has led employees to discover joys nearby that they may have previously overlooked, to develop a sense of attachment, and to want to turn the place where they live into the place where they work.
If the people connecting "life" with "work" become increasingly active across all areas of Tokyo, not only will people's diversity be put to good use, but local economies will also be revitalized, becoming a new source of attraction for Tokyo with its many bright and vibrant regions.