TOKYO: Sayako had been trying to conceive a second child for two years when her boss at a Japanese daycare centre suggested she stop because she had missed her “turn”, reports AFP.
Sayako, who spoke to AFP using a pseudonym, learned her boss had an unwritten policy that experts say is not uncommon in Japan: an informal “pregnancy rota” for employees.“Why don’t you take a break, you already have one,” her boss said, despite knowing Sayako was so keen to get pregnant that she was seeing a fertility specialist.
“I was so shocked and stunned that I couldn’t answer,” the 35-year-old told AFP.
Sayako’s boss told her that an older newly-wed at her workplace now had priority when it came to having children.
She quit the job and moved to another daycare centre, recently giving birth to her second child.
If she had stayed, “I think I’d have said ‘I’m sorry’” instead of celebrating the birth of the baby.
The issue of “pregnancy rotas” hit the headlines earlier this year when a man wrote about his wife’s experience getting pregnant “out of turn”. In a letter to the Mainichi Shimbun newspaper, he said he and his wife had apologised to her boss at a nursery.“How dare you break the rules without asking?” the boss had said, the husband recounted. The letter sparked a debate about the practice, which experts say is particularly prevalent in sectors that struggle to find and retain employees, like the daycare industry.
It represents an intersection of two of Japan’s most pressing social issues: a shrinking population and the struggle women face balancing a career and family.
A declining birth rate has created labour shortages, but workplaces often demand long hours and overtime—a difficult prospect for female employees in a society that often still expects women to take the lead on housework and childcare.
This leaves many women feeling forced to quit their jobs to have children or forego a family to stay employed and get promoted.
“When you have an underlying idea that the ideal is a full-time housewife, people think women can just quit (if they get pregnant),” said Kanako Amano, a researcher at the NLI Research Institute.