Now, that's not to downplay the role of outright discrimination. That exists, although it's been illegal since 1985. The piece of legislation doesn't actually provide a means for the government to punish companies who break it, other than putting them on a "naughty list" at the Department of Labor. Which the Department of Labor hasn't even done. The result is a situation like that of one women, described in the article:
Takako Ariishi, 36, experienced an extreme version of these roles when she grew up as the only child of the president of Daiya Seiki, a small manufacturer owned by her family that supplies gauges to Nissan.Things are changing, the article notes, albeit very slowly. Apparently, Japanese society is realizing that a) it needs women to work and b) it needs women to have babies, so c) it should let a given woman do both of those in her lifetime. It's a pity that progress toward gender equality sometimes only happens when men realize it's their ass if it doesn't, but at least that progress is being made.
At first, her disappointed father cut her hair like a boy’s and forbade her to play with dolls. When she had her first son 10 years ago, he fired her from the company and anointed the infant grandson as his successor.
Still, Ms. Ariishi took over as president three years ago after her father died. She says she is the only woman in a group of some 160 heads of Nissan suppliers. The first time she attended the group’s twice-annual meetings, she says she was asked to wait in a room with secretaries.
“I still have to prove all the time that a woman can be president,” says Ms. Ariishi, a trained engineer who wears a blue unisex factory worker’s uniform in her office.
The most interesting bit of analysis in the whole piece was that, statistically, countries with better workplace participation have higher fertility rates. Women who have jobs and know they can keep them have babies earlier, because it's not a death sentence for their career. So having a baby is bad for your job, but having a job is good for having a baby. Got all that?
If you haven't had enough of workplace discrimination statistics yet, here's an excellent graph from the NYT that illustrates some of the U.S./Japan distinctions.