Learning from Toyota’s experimentBalancing work and family is the biggest challenge for career women. It is not easy for a woman to juggle her roles at home and the office, and this has become the biggest reason young Korean women have been putting off or shunning marriage altogether. The low birth rate as been the outcome. Korea has had one of the lowest birth rates in the world for 15 years with less than 1.3 children per woman on average.
Starting in August, Toyota Motor will allow around 25,000 employees, or 35 percent of the workforce at its headquarters in Japan, to work from home. This radical experiment can have strong implications for our society with its similar demographic challenge. The option is available to non-manufacturing employees in human resources, research and development, accounts or sales and other engineering fields who have been with the company for more than five years. Those working from home only have to come to the office for two hours a week.
The experiment underscores the company’s will not to give up a competent workforce at a time when people are getting older and the birth rate is dropping. It was responding to the government’s aggressive agenda to maintain a population of 100 million by encouraging females to continue working and more men to help out at home. Mitsubishi and other companies said they would be expanding work-from-home programs.
We must not watch the changes in Japan simply with envy. Our society needs action just as bold to push the birth rate past 1.5 by 2020. The government must employ flexible work systems at public institutions to set an example. Private corporations should also learn from Toyota and change their rigid systems. We cannot avoid the looming demographic cliff with shoddy, all-for-show measures like state-run consulting services for working moms and dads.
JoongAng Ilbo, June 11, Page 26