It’s no secret that job hunting in Japan is ridiculously difficult. Everything about the process is set in stone, from the hairstyle and suit you wear to an interview to how many times you knock on the door before entering the interview room (hint: it’s twice).
With such a strict set of rules, how do people who identify as a different gender than they were born as—or maybe no particular gender at all—fit in? According to a recent online survey by Pantene, the answer seems to be simply: they don’t. At least, not yet.
Pantene Japan’s latest campaign, appropriately titled #PrideHair, attacks this issue head-on. In a society where women’s hairstyles and apparel for job interviews is defined down to how many centimeters tall their heels should be, there is little room for job seekers to express their identities outside the heteronormative gender binary.
#PrideHair is a multi-channel promotional campaign launched on Sept. 30 that features transgender models on billboards in Shibuya and Shinjuku Stations. Interviews with members of the LGBTQ+ community and a survey on Pantene’s website detail the struggles they faced job hunting in Japan.
76% of LGBTQ+ job seekers in Japan keep their sexual identity a secret
In Pantene’s press release published on Sept. 30 where they announced the campaign, they revealed the results of their online survey. It showed that 76% of people who identify as LGBTQ+ and have experience job hunting in Japan have kept their sexual identity secret from the companies where they applied. The most common reason cited was that they thought this information would affect the screening process, followed by concerns that their sexuality wouldn’t be embraced.
72% of respondents said that they wished companies had interview processes that were considerate of people who identify as LGBTQ+.
Furthermore, when asked what worried them about the job hunting process, around 50% of respondents cited uncertainty about how to style their hair—along with the predetermined appropriate height of heels, it’s also customary for Japanese women to interview with their hair tied back and in its supposedly natural black color. The second most-cited concern was about what to wear, which around 60% of respondents claimed they had struggled with.
The survey also asked for comments directed towards companies interviewing for open job positions, to which 72% of respondents said that they wished companies had interview processes that were considerate of people who identify as LGBTQ+.
Voices from the community
#PrideHair also prominently features voices directly from the community on its main website, where people with various identities under the LGBTQ+ rainbow have shared their own experience with Japanese recruitment and its pressures.
One of these voices is that of a novelist nicknamed “lenaaa,” who identifies as non-binary. Lenaaa shared their experience trying to fit into the narrow definition of their born gender to pass the Japanese interview process, starting with difficulties with the Japanese resume, where job applicants must select their gender right after filling in their name and birthdate.
“With options for only ‘male’ or ‘female,’ I reluctantly circled the ‘female’ option. But every time I did, I felt my identity fading away. At interview training sessions held by the unemployment office, they instructed me to be feminine down to the placement of my hands. All these things were trivial, but they were upsetting nonetheless.”
Next, 26-year-old Goda-san, a transgender man, shared his stressful experience with the job-hunting process in Japan starting as a junior in college, the time when many students in Japan start looking for their post-graduate job.
“While everyone else was worried about what kind of job or what company to apply for, I struggled with whether I should wear a men’s or women’s suit. Clearly, I wasn’t mentally ready for the job hunting process, so I put off my job search for a year until I could summon the courage I needed.”
Another interview on Pantene’s website is with Sari Kaede, a 27-year-old transgender woman working at an architecture firm. She opened up about her struggles interviewing for jobs early on in her gender transition, but remained firm in her resolve to interview as a woman.
While everyone else was worried about what kind of job or what company to apply for, I struggled with whether I should wear a men’s or women’s suit.
“I started job hunting just six months after coming out and transitioning to female. Nothing was working out for me. I could barely even do makeup for the normal day-to-day, much less professional makeup for job interviews, and my height also kept me from finding female suits for interviews that I could wear. But I felt like I had to be honest and interview as the gender I identified as rather than transitioning after joining a company.”
Job hunting in Japan is hard enough for everyone, but its emphasis on fitting strict gender norms to get a job offer makes it particularly challenging for people who identify as LGBTQ+. Sari Kaede hits on an essential point in her story—why interview for a potential employer as anything other than who you really are?
With the combined efforts of Pantene’s #PrideHair campaign and community voices speaking out against it, there is hope that Japanese recruitment practices will change for the better—for sexual minorities and everyone else, too.