I recently caught up with my good friend Annie Chang, of AC Global Solutions and Founder of Women in Technology Japan (WITJ). We spoke about how the pandemic was impacting the workforce, especially women’s roles.  If you don’t know Annie, she is an entrepreneur and a strong supporter of gender diversity. She’s passionate about connecting female professionals and increasing the proportion of women in leadership roles.

 During our chat, she revealed some favorable trends that the pandemic has enabled in Japan.  As most everyone is aware, many companies started WFH routines to avoid clustering in public spaces, including offices and public transportation. The Japan Times reports that commuter rates fell as low as 20-30% at the height of work from home guidelines from the government.

 On the Homefront, many men learned what most women already knew. Housework is not easy. Before the pandemic, the husband would leave the house early for work and arrive home late.  This is especially true in dual-income households, where the wife generally did the same thing but at different times. In most households, she would take care of the kids, family, and house. Since families socially distance together, husbands have become aware of these daily tasks’ stress and struggle. Husbands are now helping more with household tasks.

Working parents are not the only ones being enlightened about how things work. Companies have learned how to get things done remotely. The mindset that specific work tasks are too difficult to do remotely is changing by necessity. Companies can no longer make the argument that remote work doesn’t work.

 Companies that used to reject women thinking that their working from home would impact performance, can now rethink their approach.  The lesson is any employee can now work remotely and get the job done. This revelation is a blessing to single parents who are impacted more than others by school closings. Successful companies will learn to incorporate this new thinking to retain valued employees.

 Changing the mindset about remote workers not only helps the current employees but also opens the workplace up to those marginalized before the pandemic. Stay at home parents, and overwhelmingly women can participate in the economy. More women in the workforce mean there should be more women in business leadership.

 The government had a goal of 30% of business leaders should be women by 2020. Unfortunately, the level is currently around 15%. This goal has been extended to 2030. Hopefully, a proactive government stance and the new paradigm of work from home will make this goal attainable.

Out of the sadness and fear that the pandemic brought forth, a new future is possible. Optimism is gaining a foothold in Japan. A brighter outlook for flexible work practices, a more inclusive workforce, and more women leading the way.

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