Revolutionising Japan’s Businesses Through Women

By Alecsandra Tubiera


There will always be a call for more women in the workforce, and as times are changing, it is evident that women are now leading the top enterprises in the market. In Japan today, more women are getting employed, and this could mean a transformation for the country’s economy. However, not all of them is in full-time job, and women are still working hard in the climbing up the ladders of the corporate world.


Progressive gender equality in the workplace?

Japan’s population is continuously shrinking and ageing, and the country has decided to continue to grow its workforce despite the issue. Since the population’s peak in 2010 at 128 million, it has now decreased by 1.3 million people. Additionally, its population is made largely by the elderly: 28 percent are over 65, compared to 18 percent in the UK and 15 percent in the US.1

The country’s female employment rate has been a key contributor, as a higher proportion of women are also returning to work sooner after having children than they were previously in 2002. A government policy has aided this, by increasing the number of nursery places and making provision for all 3 to 5-year-olds free by 2021. A law passed in 2015 demands that larger firms set targets for hiring and promoting women. Other legislation caps overtime at 100 hours a month, a move designed to both prevent over-work and generate new roles where demand clearly exists.

“Highly educated women quit because it’s not worthwhile keeping that ‘stupid’ job,” said Machiko Osawa.

Women in Japan usually end up in the non-career roles, which involve administrative jobs with hardly any upward mobility. “Highly educated women quit because it’s not worthwhile keeping that ‘stupid’ job,” said Machiko Osawa, a labor economist at Japan Women’s University in a CNN report.2

The government is currently way behind the raft of targets PM Shinzo Abe set three years ago, which included the goal of women holding at least 30 percent of senior positions in all parts of society by 2020, since it is already 2019.

However, this situation has been gradually improving, with roughly 66 percent of Japanese women are working, according to Kathy Matsui of Goldman Sachs in a report from CNN. It is still below the 80 percent of men working in the country.3

In a study by Kazuo Yamaguchi, a Ralph Lewis Professor of Sociology at the University of Chicago, his analysis of the gender wage gap found that gender differences in employment type—specifically the larger proportion of women than men employed in non-regular positions—explain only 36 percent of the gender wage gap.

“The primary factor is the gender wage gap within full-time regular employment, which accounts for more than half of the overall gender wage gap. The elimination of the gender wage gap among regular workers is therefore a more pressing issue than fixing the overrepresentation of women in non-regular employment,” said Yamaguchi in his article.4

A major cause of the gender wage disparity of Japanese regular employees is the lack of female managers. According to the 2016 Basic Survey on Equality of Employment Opportunity by the Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare, women hold 6.4 percent of the positions of department director or equivalent; 8.9 percent of section head or equivalent; and 14.7 percent of task-unit supervisor or equivalent.5


Gender equality trends Japan can adopt

Working to get more women on executive boards

In countries that have an average of three women on large company, all but one also has mandated quotas, according to a report from Bloomberg. Having board quotas for women may be a step in the right direction towards equality in the workplace. In the U.S., California was the first state to require at least one woman on executive boards, and it may help pave the way for other states, as well as countries to follow suit.6

Fortune 500 companies with the highest number of women directors reported a 42 percent greater return on sales and a 53 percent higher return on equity than the rest, according to the Harvard Business Review.

Three out of four Japanese companies have no female senior executives and a Reuters poll said women account for less than 10 percent of management, underscoring an uphill battle for PM Abe’s “Womenomics” push.7 As mentioned, the government wants to see the proportion of female senior executives at listed firms climb to 10 percent by 2020 and the number in management rise to 30 percent.

The Japanese government is pressuring companies to reform as a new regulation went into effect earlier in 2016 that required firms to disclose how many female employees they have and their plans to support and promote them.

A Reuters Corporate Survey, conducted from August 29 to September 10, 2018, found that only one tenth of Japanese firms said women accounted for 10 percent or more of management. Also, at three-quarters of companies, the figure was less than 10 percent and at 15 percent of firms, there were none.

The movement is called #KuToo, which is a play on the Japanese word “kutsu” for shoes and “kutsuu,” meaning pain.

Women are on the path to reaching critical mass in government

Thousands of Japanese women have joined a social media campaign against dress codes acceptable at work. The campaign also rejects the stereotype that women should wear high heels in the workplace.

The movement is called #KuToo, which is a play on the Japanese word “kutsu” for shoes and “kutsuu,” meaning pain.8 Yumi Ishikawa, a writer and actress, launched the campaign after leaving a message on Twitter, about being forced to wear high heels for a part-time job at a funeral home. She said the requirement is an example of gender discrimination.

She also wrote that wearing high heels causes health problems for women with their feet and in the lower back. “It’s hard to move, you can’t run, and your feet hurt. All because of manners,” she wrote, as reported in a VOA News article.9

Ishikawa submitted the online petition to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry on June 3, as this was the start of the screening process for new job seekers recruitment, during which many female applicants wear heels. The petition calls on the government to tell companies to stop rules enforcing women to wear heels.

However, labor minister Takumi Nemoto indicated that he will not support a drive to ban such dress codes. “It’s generally accepted by society that wearing heels is necessary and reasonable in workplaces,” Nemoto said in a Diet committee session. Some supporters of the campaign tweeted that forcing women to wear high heels in earthquake-prone Japan can pose threats to their lives.10

Equal representation in government may help more legislation get completed, and in the business world, gender-balanced leadership teams can help further the progress in a business as different ideas and solutions may come into play.


Leaders should take a stand for equality

Having leadership with an equality mindset is beneficial for a company and is a great leap forward. Bringing inclusivity and diversity to a reality will require business leaders who walk the talk and set the tone for the rest of the organisation.

It’s no secret that parity is good for business: Companies with the highest representation of women on their senior teams reap 34 percent more profits than companies with the lowest female representation, according to Catalyst, a non-profit group that promotes women in the workplace.

Catalyst found that women make up for 9.1 percent of all senior managers at Nissan (NSANF), which was above the 8.3 percent average for Japanese firms with more than 100 employees. Chie Kobayashi, who led Nissan’s diversity development office in 2016, said the company was attractive to her straight out of university because it strips the trend by not using separate career tracks. She also became the first Japanese working mother to be posted overseas for Nissan in 2005.11

Nissan attracts women with its policies, including generous parental leave, flexible working hours, career mentoring and on-site childcare facilities at its global headquarters in Yokohama. Also, major Japanese companies such as Calbee and Shiseido (SSDOF), have also been singled out for their progressive policies on women employees.

However, such firms typically have foreigners in senior management, often crediting Nissan’s Brazilian-born CEO, Carlos Ghosn, for implementing such policies in the company. Therefore, Nissan is just one of the many companies that can help the Japanese government’s target of having women represent 15 percent of senior managers at private companies by 2020.

Having a government and companies that more accurately reflect the population will help push legislation forward to better understand and provide women’s wants and needs, from supporting equal pay to advocating for mandatory parental leave to greater protection against sexual harassment.


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The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of The World Financial Review.