Japan's Underutilized Female Resources
Early this month I attended a Japan Society event regarding empowering women in the U.S. and Japan. The featured speakers were former Diet member, Minister of the Environment and Minister of Foreign Affairs Yoriko Kawaguchi, and Morgan Stanley Chief Financial Officer Ruth Porat. The conversation was moderated by Columbia Professor of History Carol Gluck, a Japanologist who has written several books on Japanese history. Some of the topics to be addressed were gender disparity issues, using quota systems to increase numbers of women executives and work-life balance, so it was guaranteed to be an interesting discussion.
Kawaguchi pointed out that a mentality change on the part of both employers and women themselves is needed. Many Japanese women strive for nothing more than having a happy, healthy family, not even conceiving that they could reach the levels of upper management. Of course, this creates a chicken and egg scenario as there are few female role models in these positions so they don’t have many predecessors in whose footsteps they can follow. Porat remaked that when she started out there were few female managers she could look up to, but credited her advancement partially to male superiors who recognized her skills and took a chance on her. Kawaguchi stressed that there is a significant pipeline of women with the potential to move into executive positions in Japan in the future.
One of the most obvious solutions for getting more women into the work force is improving child care options, which is essential to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s plan to bring stay-at-home moms back to work to help relieve Japan’s chronic employment shortage. He officially set the goal of having more than 30 percent of executive positions be occupied by women by the year 2020, also calling for every Japanese company to have at least one female executive. Gluck’s blunt comment regarding this lofty goal was, “Good luck with that!” Currently, women hold just 1.6% of executive roles at Japanese public companies, and only 15 percent of its companies meet the one female executive requirement. Obstacles to having Japanese women enter the workplace are largely cultural. It is clear that a sea change is needed in Japan to even come close to reaching this target of Abe’s Womenomics.