Office Ladies (Japan)
Office ladies, commonly referred to as OL’s, are women in Japan that work in an office whose tasks include: filing and other administrative work, serving tea and greeting visitors.
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OL’s are women primarily between the ages of 21-30, many of which are university graduates, although they can be recruited directly from high school. Companies often require them to wear uniforms for this position.Forrest, J. (1998). The Office Lady in Japan. Retrieved August 17, 2010, from Intertext: http://wrt-intertext.syr.edu/VI/forrest.html Their tasks include Pink-collar, administrative work like filing and delivering office memos to service work such as greeting guests and serving tea.
The Route to Marriage
The jobs are usually seen as temporary. Many OLs finish their career when they marry or have children. There are several reasons for this. One is culture; in Japan women are mostly viewed in the roles of wife and mother. After an OL marries, her responsibility shifts to the domestic sphere. Another reason is children. Not only is it considered inappropriate to have a pregnant woman working, but once a woman has the child, infant daycare is difficult to find and very expensive. As a result these women often don’t return to their positions as OLs.
Women who are seen as more interested in their job rather than marriage are generally looked on as aberrations. It is not uncommon for co-workers and matchmakers to meddle in relationship affairs of unmarried women over 30.
Yuko Ogasawara writes in her book, ‘Office Ladies and Salaried Men,’ that occupational roles in Japan are largely viewed in terms of gender.Ogasawara, Yuko. “Office Ladies and Salaried Men: Power, Gender and Work in Japanese Companies.” University California Press, 1998. Women are in service, most often for men, while men take on management roles.
The Power of Valentine’s Day
OL’s can effect relations and status of men within the company. One prime example of this is Valentine’s Day. In Japan only women give out gifts, most often chocolate. The manner the chocolate is given, to whom and how much are all indicators of how much respect and admiration the OLs of the office have for individual men. “By imbuing the gift with meanings which men find difficult to ignore, women are able to enjoy a temporary power over men.” Ogasawara, Y. (1996), Meanings of Chocolate: Power and Gender in Valentine’s Gift Giving. International Journal of Japanese Sociology, 5: 41–66.
Women and Career Paths
Japanese law states that there should be equality between the genders. This law led to the mandate that all companies were responsible for providing women with two career paths: Office Ladies or management. Each woman is responsible for choosing her career path, regardless or her skills.The Economist. (1997, March 8). The New Women in Japan, Free at Last? The Economist , 35 (4). Many women choose the route of OL, in part because of the strong feature of Japanese culture to maintain harmony within the group.
Pressure of responsibilities and time management also factor in. “Given the frequent transfers, long hours, and lack of domestic help, moving up the corporate ladder all but requires a stay-at-home spouse. Corporate practice has done nothing to adapt to the woman who wants to reach the top and also to bring up a family”. Even if a woman wanted to rise in the company, her prospects compared to her male counterparts are quite low.
There is evidence that this trend may be starting to give way a little, as a slight increase in female managers has been seen. However, women in management roles is by no means becoming a norm.
Although the tasks OLs perform are considered to require a low-skill level, they are well paid for their work. Since most OLs still live with their parents, and will continue to do so until they marry, they have high disposable incomes. Their impact in the economy is notable. They are the largest group of consumers in Japan.