The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan

In the white paper Untapped Potential: A Collaborative Blueprint for Achieving Japan’s 2020/30 Overall Target of Women Holding 30 Percent of Management and Leadership Positions by 2020, the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan Women in Business Committee put forward 10 recommendations for helping businesses bring more women into the workforce, open leadership positions to them, and create an environment of equality.

The third recommendation is labeled ikumen, which means fathers who take part in housework and help raise their children, while maintaining their full-time jobs.

In this installment of our series that expands on the white paper, we discuss the topic of ikumen with Tetsuya Ando, founder of the nonprofit organization Fathering Japan.

Established in 2006, Fathering Japan focuses on supporting fathers who are balancing the responsibilities of work and home. The group successfully coined the term ikumen as well as ikuboss (a male manager or supervisor who participates in childcare and encourages their subordinates to become ikumen who support women trying to balance these tasks).

Tachimori: It seems that Fathering Japan has had a significant impact on society, as today more men in their twenties and thirties are pitching in and helping with housework and child-rearing. It’s great progress on the home front, but what challenges remain with respect to increasing women leaders within organizations?

Ando: To make more progress there, we need to increase the number of ikubosses. Even though we see more ikumen at home, we still have a very low percentage of men taking childcare leave at work. We learned through various surveys that there is strong resistance to this ikumen and ikuboss culture among men in their forties and fifties, who are currently managers and supervisors. To prevent women from falling out of the promotion pipeline—and to increase the number of women leaders—more of these men must become ikubosses. We have been focusing more on this over the past three years and have introduced various corporate training programs.

Tachimori: I see how important ikubosses are, because they are responsible not only for supporting and understanding women who are trying to balance work and life, but also for fostering ikumen in companies. What other activities are you undertaking?

Ando: The Government of Japan is now working hard on work-style reform, and we believe that ikumen and ikubosses are the keys to success in this endeavor. Because ikubosses represent role models for other men, we provide more than 500 ikuboss training sessions for male managers each year throughout Japan. We also try to promote this culture by publishing reports and information online.

Tachimori: I totally agree with you about the importance of role models. The same applies to female leaders. To increase the number of women in leader­ship roles in our society, we need both motherly career-focused women as role models and fatherly ikuboss role models. I advise our clients that unless you have actual role models at the management level, you can­not succeed in increasing the percentage of female leaders. It is pie in the sky. The first step is to have women who are role models as part of management.

Ando: Yes, definitely. That’s why our activities are very important. Anyone can be a role model and, if we have more ikuboss role models, we have high hopes that more women will be made leaders in our society.

Makiko Tachimori (Fukui) is vice-chair of the ACCJ Women In Business Committee and president of Harmony Residence, Inc.
The Government of Japan is now working hard on work-style reform, and we believe that ikumen and ikubosses are the keys to success in this endeavor.