Prof Suguira: on Maternity harassment


She worked as published for 16 years before giving it all up and turning to academia.

Research Focus: 

She feels that becoming a mother in the context of Japanese society is a highly contradictory process. this is because as one becomes a mother, she is also expected to work like a normal person which is physically quite impossible. A woman is torn between fulfilling the requirements as a mother and meeting the expectations of a good worker.

In most cases, maternity harassment means female workers facing discrimination in the workplace during the course of their pregnancy and while bringing up their children. However, her definition of maternity harassment focusses on the internal paradox that women face between fulfilling the expectations of both motherhood and her career.

Before academia…

During her time at the publishing company, she recalled that even when she was heavily pregnant, her company still expected her to work long hours and put in the same number of hours as men. She strongly disagreed with such treatment as she knew it was physically damaging and taking maternity breaks should not be seen as a weakness.

While women may perceive discrimination as maternity harassment, others may seem it as ensuring the quality of work. How do you point out the difference? 

After WW2, society became very male-centric as the economy required the “salarymen” (work long hours, pledge loyalty to one company) to increase productivity and recover from the war. However, more recently, when women joined the workforce, the “salaryman” expectations were imposed on them too. By then, the “salaryman” persona had started degenerating into the “careless man” persona – one who works without consideration of the needs of his own family.

The irony is that while society enforce equal expectations on both men and women workers, equality is not truly achieved as these standards are male-centric and not attuned to the demands of motherhood.

Hence, to differentiate between maternity harassment and ensuring quality work, the definition of “equality” has to be more clearly ironed out.

Why is maternity harassment still present in the workplace even if there are laws that prohibit companies from engaging in maternity harassment? 

There are no fines for violating the laws!

Even with the law, only a small percentage of women will benefit. The law only applies to permanent staff who work in more law-abiding companies. 60% of female labor work as temperature staff and do not enjoy such benefits from the law.

However, the irony is that even as the law is being enforced which is in favour of permanent staff, the number of females in permanent positions has not increased. This is because, the government has also enforced a higher tax rate for dual-income households. more women are still pushed to temporary jobs to avoid higher tax rates and as a result end up in temporary jobs and are subjected to a higher likelihood of maternity harassment.

How do women usually respond to maternity harassment? 

Most women do not staying anything. Recently, however, women have become more outspoken and have resorted to suing companies that treat them unfairly. However, she feels that even if women stand up to speak out against it, it is not enough to completely alter such deep rooted institutional sexism. More recognition should be accorded to these women for having the courage to speak up and success should not be measured solely based on the outcomes.