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HomeWorld newsIt's taken decades, but Japan's working women are making progress

It’s taken decades, but Japan’s working women are making progress

When the future empress of Japan joined the country’s elite diplomatic corps in 1987, a year after a major labor law on equal employment conditions went into effect, she was one of only three female recruits. Then known as Masako Owada, she worked long hours and had an emerging career as a trade negotiator. But she lasted a little less than six years in the job and gave it up to marry Crown Prince โ€“ and now Emperor โ€“ Naruhito.

Much has changed in the ensuing thirty years for Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs โ€“ and in some ways for Japanese women more broadly.

As of 2020, women make up nearly half of every incoming diplomat class, and many continue their careers after marriage. This progress, in a country where women were primarily hired only for administrative positions until the 1980s, shows how the simple power of numbers, however slowly, can change workplace culture and create a leadership pipeline.



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