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The question of whether having more women managers would help Japanese companies to globalise was raised, but not discussed in depth due to time constraints, at a dinner I attended, hosted by a delegation to the UK from Japan Women’s Innovative Network – a Japanese non profit organisation. An impressively large number of younger women (70) had been sponsored by their companies to come to the UK for a week, visiting various UK companies such as British Telecom and AON, to study global leadership and diversity.
My view is yes, it does help Japanese companies to globalise if they have more (Japanese) women managers, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it helps Japanese companies and corporate culture seem less “alien” to Western companies if there are more women in management positions in the headquarters, and secondly, because the adjustments Japanese companies will have to make in order to incorporate a more diverse Japanese workforce (gender or other diversity) will help them be more inclusive of “non-Japanese” diverse groups. Attitudes to overtime and working from home would be a couple of areas needing adjustment I would suggest.
On the first point, the question of the role of women in Japanese companies is frequently raised in the cultural awareness sessions we conduct in Europe for Japanese companies. Japan never does well in surveys of the position of women in society – see the most recent World Economic Forum Gender Gap report, placing Japan 114th out of 144 countries (updated for 2017). While you can question the methodology of such surveys, then along comes another one, conducted amongst Japanese women, showing that 1/3 of them want to be full time housewives.
Which leads me to point out in our training (and in the Advancing Gender Diversity day I spoke at for Hitachi’s European group companies – presentation on SlideShare here) that Confucian values remain strong in Japan – it’s not that women are seen as somehow less capable than men, more that there are expectations around the role they should fulfil in society.
Prime Minister Abe is trying to square a circle with Abenomics, by trying to raise the birthrate but at the same time encourage women to go back to work – aiming to have 30% of senior positions in all parts of society, by 2020, through improving childcare and parental leave. But with the amount of pressure on women to be good housewives and stalwarts of the Parent Teachers Association, no amount of improved childcare and leave is going to counteract this or compensate for both parents doing overtime until late at night.
Although the Japanese government can directly change the economy with the first and second arrow of Abenomics, through fiscal and monetary actions, the third arrow of structural reform requires nudging, or even shaming Japanese companies into doing the right thing – legislation alone will be hard to push through and even harder to enforce. So Abe launched in February the “Nadeshiko” * scheme, recognising firms which are making efforts to improve the working environment for women.
Firms given the Nadeshiko “brand” in February of this year include Kao, Nissan, Fast Retailing (Uniqlo) and Daikin. The scheme is not the only initiative taking place – various other surveys have been done of best places for women to work and the Hitachi Gender Diversity Day was partly inspired by the President of Hitachi, Hiroaki Nakanishi, declaring recently that the company aims to more than double the number of women managers by 2020.
Other recent surveys have named Benesse (no coincidence that the founder of Benesse is also the founder of J-WIN) as the most career friendly for women and companies such as Toshiba, KDDI, Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ and NTT have all announced targets for women managers. The Nikkei group has also jumped on the bandwagon, with a seminar series aimed at aspiring women managers (and even has a magazine “Nikkei Woman” ) and published its ranking last year of best places for women to work, which put foreign companies at the top (IBM Japan, Procter & Gamble) along with 2 life insurance companies, Takashimaya department store, Daiwa Securities, Sony, Panasonic, Bank of Tokyo Mitsubishi UFJ, Fujitsu and Sharp.
* Nadeshiko is a type of pink danthius flower associated with women in Japan. It was adopted as a nickname by the women’s soccer team of Japan on its way to becoming the first Asian team to win the World Cup, in 2011.
The original version of this article was published in Japanese in the Teikoku Databank News in 2014. An English version of it appears in Pernille Rudlin’s new book “Shinrai: Japanese Corporate Integrity in a Disintegrating Europe” is available as a paperback and Kindle ebook on Amazon.
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