Executive Laments Lack of Improvement for Women

IN the late 1960s, this newspaper asked a young woman attending Tokyo University to write about campus life at Japan's most prestigious institution. The article is testimony to youthful idealism and, in a modest way, to the woman's accomplishments: She was one of about 100 women in her class of some 2,500.

She has since had a successful career at a large Tokyo-based chemical company, becoming one of Japan's rare women managers. But her idealism - her ``faith in people'' as she put it then - has waned a bit. For one thing, she asked that her name not appear in the Monitor this time around, nor the name of her company. She spoke bluntly about the status of women in corporate Japan and worried that her comments might get her in trouble.

In the more than 20 years since she entered the job market, she says, ``There has been no advancement, no real improvement, in the employment of Japanese women, which is very sad.'' When she joined her company, there was one woman manager among about 2,000 male executives. Now there are two: herself and the woman who was already in the firm.

Since an equal-opportunity law was passed in 1986, corporations have been admitting women to executive-trainee programs, ``but they don't stay,'' she says.

Japan's tradition of lifetime employment in exchange for unstinting loyalty and the absence of flexible personnel policies make it difficult for working mothers to handle responsibilities at home and office. Companies rarely reemploy workers who have left for a few years. ``The companies do not know how to really cope with this new species of worker,'' she says.

The worst part, the chemical-company executive says, is that she and her network of women managers still feel as if their companies ``allow'' them to have their jobs. ``Can you imagine,'' she asks, ``being `permitted' to work?''

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