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Can Japanese women break through the glass ceiling?

  • April 2, 2014
  • , Asahi
  • Trending@Japan

Although Prime Minister Abe is hoping to elevate the role of women in the workforce and increase the percentage of women in leadership positions to 30% by 2020, Japan fell to 105th in gender equality in 2013, according to the Global Gender Gap Report released by the World Economic Forum (WEF). According to a news release issued by WEF last October, the main reason Japan’s ranking fell in 2013 was the drop in the number of female Diet members. According to a GOJ announcement on January 31, the percentage of senior female officers in the central government was 3.0% in October 2013. According to Grant Thornton’s newly released International Business Report in 2014, in which about 6,600 private companies in 45 countries were surveyed to determine the number of women in senior management positions, Japan ranked lowest at 9%, whereas Russia ranked highest at 43%. Japan still has a long, long way to go in achieving gender equality. However, there are a few rays of light on the horizon.

Japan’s biggest brokerage house, Nomura Holdings, recently announced that it appointed Chie Shimpo, 48, to lead its banking division and become the first female president in the male-dominated financial sector in Japan. Shimpo, who became the president of Nomura Trust & Banking on April 1, told NHK in an interview: “If I make a mistake, people might think it’s because I’m a woman even if it has nothing to do with that. I hope to do a good job so that people will not have to talk about my gender.” NHK (3/24) said a lot of the work female employees did in the past was to “assist” their male colleagues, including serving them tea. The network said Shimpo joined Nomura as a career-track employee three years after the Equal Employment Opportunity Law was enacted in 1986, adding that she had worked tirelessly to deliver results. She changed her working style when she got married eight years after joining the firm. The network said although she also tried to be an ideal homemaker, she realized that in order to continue working as a professional she could not achieve perfection in both roles. The network said she began to realize the importance of being able to adjust to the changing environment, instead of focusing only on delivering results. She said: “If you work hard and play hard, you tend to break easily. You need to be soft and flexible to a certain degree. I think that is the reason I was able to continue working.”

The network said Japanese companies are hiring female executives at an accelerating rate, quoting a staff of BizReach, a major recruiting company, as saying: “The number of female executives and candidates is still limited in Japan, so companies are competing for them.” However, increasing the number of female executives is not easy. According to the network, Universal Studios Japan (USJ) starting looking into hiring female executives who could analyze the needs of women ten years ago in the belief that the key to recovering its business was to increase the number of repeat family customers. However, the company had difficulty finding the right people. An HR manager said: “At the time, Japanese society was still dominated by men. It was men who were recruiting executives. As a result, we ended up hiring male executives…In order to build a strong organization, people with different experiences and views need to come together and manage the organization.”

The network said USJ eventually hired Sakiko Morimoto, 42, as a marketing manager in 2012. She first proposed using designs that appeal to mothers, and introduced a ticket reservation system so that people no longer have to wait in long lines for attractions. As a result, USJ saw record-high profits in 2013. Morimoto has two children who are in primary school and like other working moms she is having difficulty balancing work and family. She said: “I just want to see my kids as soon as possible [after work].” Morimoto sometimes works from home and when one of her children has a fever she has to cancel important meetings. She said: “Especially when you have small children, all sorts of unexpected things happen on a daily basis. I have to make quick decisions on how to take care of my children and work at the same time, and set priorities.” According to the network, Morimoto holds meetings with her staff only when major decisions have to be made, and frequently uses the phone and email to share information. The network said the spirit of “producing results in a limited time” has changed the mindset of the staff in her section, quoting her as saying: “Everyone began to think seriously about how to get things done in an hour.”

Asahi (3/27) also published a promising story about gradual changes in Japan’s conservative financial industry, which has long been dominated by men. Teiko Kudo, 49, became an executive officer of Mitsui Sumitomo Bank on April 1, and Atsumi Arima, 51, became an executive officer of Mizuho Bank on the same day. The paper said this is the first time for female employees at any of the three major banks in Japan to be promoted to senior executive positions. The paper also said Japan’s second-largest brokerage house, Daiwa Securities, appointed Keiko Tashiro, 50, to its board of directors on April 1.

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