Some companies are reluctant to invest in women employees because they worry they will leave, said Katsura Tottori, a senior operating officer who oversees diversity at Otsuka Pharmaceutical Co.
Nearly 30 years ago, Tottori took only six weeks off after her first child, and eight weeks after her second. These days, Otsuka allows 18 months of maternity leave.
Even with such changes, the biggest challenge lies in changing the thinking of family members, said Tottori. Cultural stereotyping favors the docile female who dotes upon men, raises the children and does all the cooking and cleaning.
Kumiko Nemoto, associate professor of sociology at Western Kentucky University, is studying the attitudes toward working women at several major Japanese companies. She said gender equality would be more attainable if companies received financial incentives for achieving it, and penalties for discrimination.
Even women prefer male bosses, Nemoto said. She said they have grown accustomed to "eroticizing" their career paths, playing a feminine role with higher-ups to get ahead.
"The culture of the housewife is dominant," she said. "Women's ambitions are shaped by their limited opportunities."