#Asia #Japan Why Japan’s #KuToo is Not Really About Shoes


Today I am going to correct two big mistakes; one of my own and one of society’s.

I lot of listeners emailed me about the comments I made regarding how Japanese companies treat their employees and customers while they are pregnant. I got it wrong, so I would like to set the record straight.

I also explain what I see as the obvious answer to the current #KuToo controversy. I realize that this puts me at serious risk of having to publish another retraction, but I think it’s an important way of looking at this problem.

Please enjoy, and let me know what you think.

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Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan’s most successful entrepreneurs.
I’m Tim Romero, and thanks for joining me.
As expected, my crazy Google travel schedule has caused me reschedule some of my interviews, but I promise that I’ll get back to talking with some of Japan’s most amazing startup founders really soon.
Today, however, I want to talk about the feedback I received from my recent discussion with Miku Hirano about how pregnant women are treated at work in Japan, and specifically, about my comments in the outro of that episode.
Hey, when I screw up, I have no problem admitting that I screwed up, and boy did I step in it this time.   
So today, I want to set the record straight on what it’s like for women working at startups and at large enterprises here in Japan. Oh yes, and we are also going to tak about shoes.
And yeah, I totally understand how strange it is for a white guy to stand behind a microphone and talk about the situation women face in Japan. I’ll get to that in a minute, but first, let me explain what I got wrong, and let me set the record straight.
In our conversation, Miku told the story of how supportive her clients and prospective clients had been while she was pregnant. Doing things like adjusting their schedules and coming to her office for meetings, where Japanese business protocol would require that she visit them.
Both Miku and I were surprised and delighted that so many Japanese salarymen, who have a reputation for being rather sexist, voluntarily went out of their way to accommodate her and to make things just a little bit easier for her while she was expecting.
In the outtro, I speculated that this outpouring of support might be because she was a startup CEO, and many of the traditional rules of Japanese business etiquette don’t seem to apply to startups, and I mused that her experience might have been very different if she had worked at a more traditional Japanese company.
Well, I was wrong. I was really wrong. And in fact, I have to say that I’m pretty happy that I was wrong about this. Let me explain what happened….
After that episode aired, I received a lot of email from female listeners working at large Japanese companies who explained that both their clients and their companies made exactly the same kinds of accommodations for them when they were pregnant.
And I also heard from a few senior managers and HR professionals telling me that I got it wrong. They gave me examples of how they had made a point of traveling to visit a vendor who was pregnant or broke up long meetings into multiple short ones to make things more manageable for pregnant employees or visitors.
So I got it wrong. And that’s awesome!
But I can’t just leave it there.  I probably should, but I mean something still doesn’t fit. There is a great deal of gender discrimination in Japan. Both international organizations and Japanese NGOs consistantly rank Japan very poorly in this regard. In fact, the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Report ranked Japan 110th out of 149 countries.
And then there are things like Tokyo Medical University marking down girl’s scores on the entrance exams to ensure “enough” boys would get in.
So how do we reconcile this seeming contradiction?  The independent research showing that discrimination exists is consistent and respected,

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