Career Opportunities of Female Japanese Managers
in Japanese Corporations and Foreign Subsidiaries


Prof. Dr. Markus Pudelko
Dr. Helene Tenzer

For almost half a century, Japanese human resource management has been defined by its so-called ‘three pillars’: lifelong employment, seniority and company unions. However, next to these ‘three pillars’, another feature has been equally typical of the Japanese employment system: the discrimination of women at the workplace. Given the current overall change of Japanese (human resource) management practices, the question arises if and to which degree these discriminatory practices are still ongoing.

This research project investigates the current situation of career-minded female Japanese employees in domestic organizations compared to subsidiaries of foreign multinationals. This study follows two core objectives. The first aim is to gain insight into Japanese women’s professional ambitions in order to illustrate to which extent female attitudes are moving away from culturally engrained gender roles. The second aim is to understand the ambivalence between the cultural determination of organizational gender practices and openness to outside competitive pressures.

As this project is investigating sensitive gender relations within organizations, which are deeply embedded in their cultural and societal context, only a qualitative approach appears appropriate. So far around 50 semi-structured interviews were conducted with female Japanese professionals working in foreign subsidiaries of multinational corporations located in Japan. The majority of these interviewees also had experience working in domestic companies. In the next wave of data collection, further interviews will be conducted with career-minded female Japanese employees working for domestic corporations. The dataset is analyzed by using the constant comparative method.

By exploring of the ambivalence between traditional Japanese gender roles and outside pressures for change the aim is to capture the changing faultlines in Japanese society. Considering the increasing “war for talent” in Japanese corporations, it is intended to develop managerial recommendations.