SOAS University of London

Japan Research Centre

Leaning Out for the Long Span: Married Japanese Salarywomen’s strategies for maintaining careers and well-being in the 2000s

Glenda S Roberts


Professor Glenda S. Roberts (Graduate School of Asia-Pacific Studies, Waseda University)

Date: 14 March 2018Time: 5:00 PM

Finishes: 14 March 2018Time: 7:00 PM

Venue: Russell Square: College Buildings Room: KLT

Type of Event: Seminar

This seminar has been cancelled due to UCU strike action.


Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg’s 2013 book Lean In attracted attention in Japan, where Sandberg’s advice for business women to ‘lean in’ and assert themselves in order to climb the ranks of power in the corporation was controversial.  Soon after the NHK special featuring Sandberg, I noticed the translated version of her book had appeared and was displayed prominently in a bookstore at Shinjuku station, easily in reach of the urban business commuter.  But how do ‘salarywomen’ view Sandberg’s strategies? How do women in ordinary career positions maintain their well-being when their husbands are rarely able to substantially contribute to childrearing and domestic management?  This paper concerns building a career over the long span of marriage and childrearing, and the choices ordinary salary women make not to lean in too far, while enlisting intergenerational support in order to manage their family lives. While such strategies may not propel married women into the Sandberg ranks of upper management, they are survival strategies while the children are growing up. Will these strategies evolve as companies are pressured to increase the percentage of women in management under Prime Minister Abe’s policies?. How much are neo-liberal notions of career-building and self-responsibility affecting Japanese salarywomen? Data come from a longitudinal set of fourteen women in the same Tokyo corporation, whom I have been interviewing at 3-5 year intervals since 2003.

Speaker Biography

Glenda S. Roberts obtained her PhD in Anthropology from Cornell University in 1986. After holding research and academic positions in Honolulu from 1988, she has lived and worked in Japan since 1996, first at the University of Tokyo Institute of Social Sciences, and then, from 1998 to the present, at the Graduate School of Asia-Pacific Studies of Waseda University, where she is Professor. She is currently in Paris at EHESS as Visiting Researcher until the end of May, 2018.Her major areas of research are gender, work, family, and migration policy in contemporary Japan. Her current project examines work/life balance and well-being for French families.  Recent publications include:

Capturing Contemporary Japan: Differentiation and Uncertainty, University of Hawaii Press, 2014, edited by Satsuki Kawano, Glenda S. Roberts and Susan Long

Japan’s Evolving Family: Voices from Young Urban Adults Navigating Change by Glenda S. Roberts Honolulu, HI: East-West Center 2016,

"An Immigration Policy by Any other Name: The Semantics of Immigration to Japan." in Social Science Japan Journal, jyx033,, published 04 December 2017, Oxford University Press.

Organiser: SOAS Japan Research Centre

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