Hair care brand shines a light on outdated practice that forces women to sport the “job-hunting hairstyle” in order to gain employment.

If you’ve been in Japan a while, you may have noticed there’s a uniform for everything, even if you’re not a sailor-suit-wearing student or a salaryman loosening his tie for the Cool Biz season. Whether you’re doing the housework, attending a wedding, or out on a mountain hike, there’s a special dress code that everyone abides by, so passersby can know what you’re doing at a glance, and a sense of uniformity with the group can be maintained.

One of the most obvious displays of uniformity can be seen when the country’s new graduates begin job hunting every year. This is when you’ll see groups of new recruits, or “freshers” as they’re called in Japan, out and about in their fresher uniforms, which consist of a standard white shirt, black suit, and black shoes.

While men are given a bit of leeway with their hairstyle and choice of necktie, which should be plain and sensible, women are required to abide by some additional rules, which include a certain length for the suit skirt, a height for the heel, the requirement to wear stockings, and a specific hairstyle, specifically a low ponytail and a side-parted fringe.

▼ Some people say women at company entrance ceremonies look like clones.

Now, hair care brand Pantene is challenging people to reconsider this requirement for all new recruits to look the same while job hunting in Japan. On 24 September, they sent out this tweet on their official Twitter account, igniting a debate about the uniformity requirement for new recruits.

The above tweet reads:

“What should a work hairstyle be like? Looking at the raw opinions of 1,000 job hunters, their collective voices reveal the oppression of job-hunting hair and call for freedom of hairstyles. It’s a difficult problem to push for more freedom in job hunting, but this is the current thought of Pantene.”

The next day, Pantene ran a full-page ad in Nikkei, the world’s largest financial newspaper with a daily circulation of more than three million. The ad shows a girl sporting the typical job-hunting hairstyle, along with the question, “If I attend the company recruitment ceremony with my own hairstyle, will my job offer be taken away?”

It’s a valid question, and one that many young women have no doubt asked themselves, despite never daring to take the risk by letting their hair down to find out. After all, in a country where group harmony is considered more important than the individual, any new recruit who doesn’t conform could be viewed as a potential liability for the company.

At the bottom of the ad, it says “Hoping that looking for a job without a ponytail becomes a natural thing for this country.”

As well as appearing in the newspaper, the ad is also currently being displayed on board Japanese trains.

▼ And also along a large wall at Shibuya Station.

Looking closely at the ad, the design incorporates remarks from 1,000 women surveyed who gave their opinion about the hairstyle requirement, printed across the page in small print, with different gradations to create the image.

According to the survey conducted by Pantene, 81 percent of respondents said they had experienced having to fabricate their feelings in order to fit in with a company while job hunting. Some of the remarks featured on the advertisement include:

“I wanted to get the job so I wore a ponytail even though the style didn’t suit me.”
“I thought it was strange that everyone had the same style but I didn’t want to be the only one cut off from the group so I had to do it.”
“This mass-produced hairdo makes me feel like there’s no me.”
“I have a complex about my round face so I don’t like ponytails but I felt pressured to follow the recommended hairstyle.”
“I had to dye my naturally brown hair black.”

It’s true that, like some schools, certain companies also prefer their new recruits to have black hair. The thinking behind it is that brown hair looks like it has been dyed, regardless of whether it’s one’s natural hair colour or not.

With the importance of women’s issues and gender equality in Japan in the limelight lately, Pantene’s new ad campaign is a timely topic that’s receiving approval from many Japanese people online, who have been vocal about the need to change uniformity in Japan’s job-hunting world.

With companies like Godiva running full-page ads in newspapers to draw attention to Japan’s unusual Valentine’s Day customs, brands are calling out traditions and pushing for people to redefine societal customs in a way that’s never been seen before. We can’t wait to see which company will be next to come out with an ad as inspiring as this one.

Source: Hachima Kikou
Featured image: Twitter/@vmustk