A high profile case in Japan reminds us of some fundamental points in the struggle for equality
There is a dark side to equality unfortunately. Along with the benefits like Shared Parental Leave come downsides. These are issues – like discrimination and a lack of career progression – women have known about for years of course. That doesn’t make it any more pleasant when men fall victim.
The latest problem is paternity harassment.
A high profile Japanese case has come to light of a man who worked for sports brand Asics. He claimed that after he took paternity leave he was shunned and bullied and ended up sitting in an office being assigned odd, impossible or pointless tasks.
The man is bringing his case to a Japanese court and it’s causing quite a stir. Not least because the working culture in Japan values things like long hours and company loyalty. Only around 6% of eligible fathers take paternity leave!
Makota Yoshida is a Japanese professor of social studies. He explained, “A boss is apt to think a worker who takes paternity leave is useless. And once an office sees a worker getting bad treatment for taking paternity leave, no one else is going to want to do it.”
Sometimes it feels like we’ve a long way to go, but one upside of this story is that it’s a welcome reminder that relatively speaking the UK is streets ahead when it comes to workers rights. Of course we’ll have to see after Brexit whether that remains the case, whether there’s a rolling back or whether the government takes the opportunity to streak ahead and model a hugely progressive workplace culture. (The latter seems unlikely since the EU wasn’t stopping anyone doing that in the first place). Interesting that Jeremy Corbyn chose to announce this week that he’d establish a minister for workers rights – he’s clocked that there are votes in the issue.
Another weird potentially positive outcome of stories like this is that men finally understand the experience of women.
There’s a lively debate ongoing about whether men should join women’s networks in the workplace. It sounds counter intuitive. But there’s some evidence that when women’s networks open their doors only then do men truly understand the barriers they face and want to help.
As men discover that it can be tricky to achieve the work life balance they want they will at last ally with women. Mums have known for years that it’s not impossible to ‘have it all’ but it’s not without its struggles.
There is a light at the end of the Japanese tunnel however. We’ll have to wait and see how the anonymous man at Asics gets on in his court case. But just a few days after his case put the term paternity harassment in the spotlight there was a government reshuffle in Toyko.
Shinzo Abe gave the environment brief to Shinjiro Koizumi, a young political star who is set to marry the woman who’s been the face of the 2020 Olympics. (For comparison imagine if Liam Fox had married Heather Small or Yvette Cooper had married David Beckham). And he’s said he might take paternity leave.
That shouldn’t be huge. But such a step could transform the working culture at a stroke.
The whole tale of paternity harassment and workplace culture in Japan highlights two crucial points. Firstly, that role models – even politicians – are important. Secondly, that while Japan is a long way from here the experiences of dads there aren’t quite so foreign. The case for better paternity rights transcends borders and stretches across the globe, just like the broader battle for gender equality.