Japanese Prime Minister Abe’s appointment of 5 women to his cabinet yesterday, over the heads of more senior male colleagues has been presented in the Western newspapers as an attempt to appeal to women voters, and also to show leadership over his commitment to improve career opportunities for Japanese women.
Diamond, the Japanese business magazine, has an interview today with Naohiro Yashiro (in Japanese), Visiting Professor at the International Christian University and formerly of Japan’s Economic Planning Agency, where he explains why despite Abe’s pressure, the proportion of women in Japanese management positions is stuck around 11%, compared to 43.7% in the US, 39.4% in France and 47.6% in the Philippines.
Even fewer women managers in large companies
Yashiro first of all highlights the fact that larger Japanese companies (over 5000 employees) have even fewer women in management (4%) than smaller companies of 10-29 employees, where 16.5% of managers are female. According to a survey by the Ministry of Welfare last year, this is not due to discrimination in larger companies, rather that there is a lack of women candidates in the management track.
Change to the labour market needed before mindsets can change
But as Yashiro points out, this theory is based on traditional Japanese employment practices, of internal promotion. If only internal promotion is relied on, then it will be very difficult for firms to reach Abe’s target of 30% female managers in 6 years. Japanese companies will have to hire from outside the firm. This would link to hiring all kinds of people, regardless of gender, age or nationality. The government has a role to play in changing the labour market – compensation for dismissal and rewards based on time put in rather than results all covertly protect male dominance, says Yashiro. “It’s argued that male managers need to change their mindset, but really, until the number of women managers increases, mindsets will not change.”
3 root causes of why there are so few women managers
1. Seniority based promotion, assuming lifetime employment with the same company
2. Assumption that there is a full time housewife supporting the long hours that the salaryman works
3. Tax and welfare system favourable to full time housewives
It’s the male working pattern that has to change, more than the female.
If it became the norm to switch companies, then there would be less of a gap between male and female managers, because the length of time with one company would no long be a criterion. Definitions of management also have to change – so that not everyone expects to become a manager. The management role should become tougher, and only for those who really want to be managers. It’s not just about helping women, says Yashiro, but about making the management of people more efficient in general, improving profitability and corporate governance.
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