Nissan Seminar: Leaning Out for the Long Span: Married Japanese Salarywomen’s strategies for maintaining careers and well-being in the 2000s

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Convener: Professors Hugh Whittaker and Takehiko Kariya

Speaker: Professor Glenda S. Roberts, Graduate School of Asia-Pacific Studies, Waseda University


Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg’s 2013 book Lean In attracted attention in Japan, where Sandberg’s advice for business women to ‘lean in’ and assert themselves in order to climb the ranks of power in the corporation was controversial.  Soon after the NHK special featuring Sandberg, I noticed the translated version of her book had appeared and was displayed prominently in a bookstore at Shinjuku station, easily in reach of the urban business commuter.  But how do ‘salarywomen’ view Sandberg’s strategies? How do women in ordinary career positions maintain their well-being when their husbands are rarely able to substantially contribute to childrearing and domestic management?  This paper concerns building a career over the long span of marriage and childrearing, and the choices ordinary salary women make not to lean in too far, while enlisting intergenerational support in order to manage their family lives. While such strategies may not propel married women into the Sandberg ranks of upper management, they are survival strategies while the children are growing up. Will these strategies evolve as companies are pressured to increase the percentage of women in management under Prime Minister Abe’s policies?. How much are neo-liberal notions of career-building and self-responsibility affecting Japanese salarywomen? Data come from a longitudinal set of fourteen women in the same Tokyo corporation, whom I have been interviewing at 3-5 year intervals since 2003.