Photo: Rakuten Golden Kids, a childcare facility located within Rakuten’s headquarters in Tokyo, has proven highly popular with working parents and recently increased its capacity from a total of 20 children to 50.

The number of women in the workforce in Japan is on the rise. An annual white paper released this month by the Gender Equality Bureau of the Cabinet Office revealed that 66% percent of women aged 15-64 are working – an increase of 7.2 percentage points over the last decade.

Rakuten is doing its part, with recent efforts to make it easier for employees to manage work and family commitments now bearing fruit. The numbers of employees taking maternity or childcare leave has increased from 95 in 2014 to 135 last year, and there’s been an encouraging improvement in a key indicator of how responsive the workplace is to the needs of working parents: the percentage of women ultimately returning to work after their leave – up from 85% in 2013 to 95% last year.

“Our goal has been to remove as many as possible of the barriers that might deter a working parent from coming back to work after having children,” explained Noriko Ushiyama, Senior Manager in the Global Human Resources Department.

One of the most visible measures was the creation in 2015 of Rakuten Golden Kids, a subsidized childcare facility located within Rakuten’s headquarters in Tokyo. The facility, which recently increased its capacity from a total of 20 children to 50, has proved to be particularly relevant for employees who commonly face difficulties gaining entry for their children into Tokyo’s public daycare facilities at the time when they are ready to go back to work. And it also holds a special attraction for Rakuten’s many non-Japanese employees, for whom the public option requires surmounting a significant language barrier. All communication with Rakuten Golden Kids can be completed in English.

“To be honest, Rakuten Golden Kids was actually one of the reasons we both decided to work at Rakuten,” explained Sunny, a Korean national with Rakuten Travel whose husband also works at the company. “They make it so easy – preparing lunch, providing nappies, even. We literally just need to bring the baby. It’s such a weight off our mind,” she said.

Woojin, Sunny, Tina and Yuki discuss Rakuten Golden Kids and some of the other initiatives provided by Rakuten that help them to juggle work and family commitments.

Woojin, Sunny, Tina and Yuki discuss Rakuten Golden Kids and some of the other initiatives provided by Rakuten that help them juggle work and family commitments.

Another new facility that new parents greatly appreciate is what’s known as the Mother’s Room, a private room where nursing mothers can pump and store breast milk during the workday. “In other companies, mothers tend to have to pump in the bathroom, and then there’s nowhere to store it till nighttime so it goes to waste,” comments Ushiyama.

Young parents are also offered support around the home – literally. Rakuten provides subsidies for house cleaning, baby-sitting and also a service that cares for children who are sick and aren’t able to go to their usual daycare facility. “The cleaning’s the best,” said Sunny’s husband Woojin. “We used to have to spend two hours cleaning every week, but now on weekends we can focus on playing with our son.”

But perhaps even more than these services, it is Rakuten’s staff evaluation policy that is most appreciated by new parents. “At Rakuten the basic policy is that employees are evaluated on their output – not on the hours they work or the number of years they’ve been in the company,” explained Ushiyama. If you deliver the results, then regardless of whether you’re a working mum or on reduced hours, your eligibility for promotion will be unaffected.

All of the working parents Rakuten Today spoke to cited these points as significant incentives for continuing their careers. Yuki, who joined Rakuten in 2001 and now works with Rakuten Institute of Technology, said, “I feel I’m given many opportunities and good chances. There’s equality. They only use your results as your evaluation. Not the hours.” Since returning from maternity leave she has been awarded with a pay rise and won an internal MVP award.

Sunny concurred, explaining that the flexibility often surprises her and her husband’s parents back in their home country of South Korea. “They’ll call up and say, shouldn’t you be at work now?” she said. “So we explain, and they’re like, ‘Wow, that really is a good company.’”

Another employee, Tina, who is originally from China, said she appreciates the focus on efficiency at Rakuten. “If you can get your work done, and need to leave on time on a particular day, you can do that. There’s no ill-will from my colleagues at all.” Initiatives like the Mother’s Room – along with the fact that these are actively promoted to all employees – have no doubt contributed to greater understanding among the general workforce of the unique challenges facing working parents.

But Ushiyama acknowledges there is still work to be done. “We’ll continue to make improvements. Ultimately, we want to create a workplace where both mothers and fathers can work to their full potential without having to compromise on their family commitments.”