On Friday, January 20th, the 21st Century Japan Politics and Society Initiative (21JPSI*) kicked off its Spring 2023 in-person multidisciplinary speaker series with a lunchtime talk by Indiana University’s own Prof. Hilary Holbrow, Assistant Professor of Japanese Politics and Society in the Hamilton Lugar School’s EALC Department. A sociologist by training, Prof. Holbrow’s scholarship examines social and economic inequality, work and organizations, immigration, and the intersections of gender, race, and ethnicity—with a particular focus on contemporary Japan. Her talk was co-sponsored by the East Asia Studies Center’s Faculty Colloquium series.
Roughly 30 IU faculty and students gathered to hear Prof. Holbrow speak on the topic of “(In)visible Inequalities: Gender and Ethnic Inequality in Japanese Firms,” which explored how various subgroups of “Asian” and “Western” workers fare in major Japanese firms relative their Japanese counterparts with comparable skills and experience. Prof. Holbrow’s study found that high levels of education and multilingualism were common across all immigrant groups, but that many foreign workers articulated “concerned uncertainty” about their chances of earning promotion due to cultural and linguistic barriers that put them at a disadvantage. She also noted that while Japanese women generally expressed less confidence about their prospects for promotion in comparison to Japanese men, this discrepancy was not present between Asian men and women, who tended to view foreign background as a greater disadvantage than gender. However, based on earnings data, Prof. Holbrow observed that while a foreign penalty was present among the firms that participated in the study, gender remained a far sharper dividing line than immigrant background. For example, though the Asian men surveyed were often able to overcome penalties associated with foreign background through overachievement, this was not true for Asian or Japanese women with comparable skill sets. In addition, Western men demonstrated higher outcomes than even Japanese men in terms of annual income. Finally, Prof. Holbrow argued that mitigating gender inequality in Japanese firms would go far toward reducing barriers for immigrant workers, many of whom face both gender and foreign penalties.
After concluding her remarks, Prof. Holbrow fielded a wide array of questions from faculty and students on topics ranging from the corporate culture of the study’s participating firms to the gender breakdown of survey respondents.
*The 21st Century Japan Politics and Society Initiative (21JPSI) was launched at Indiana University’s Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies in 2018. Under the leadership of Founding Director and HLS faculty member Adam Liff, 21JPSI aims to invigorate and expand research, teaching, and programming on contemporary Japanese politics, society, and international (esp. U.S.-Japan) relations, and to educate, raise awareness, and debate policy responses to the various political, social, and foreign policy challenges that Japan faces in this extremely dynamic era of 21st-century change. Seeded by a generous $900,000 grant from the Japan Foundation, in its first five years 21JPSI has enabled a new tenure-track faculty line in contemporary Japanese politics and society; facilitated the creation of four new courses on contemporary Japan; launched a new multidisciplinary speaker series on Japanese Politics and Society, national conferences and webinars on U.S.-Japan relations, and academic manuscript workshops; and funded graduate fellowships and faculty travel grants to support field research in Japan. For more information, please see https://jpsi.indiana.edu/ or write to firstname.lastname@example.org.