Japan Airlines' new president Mitsuko Tottori attends a press conference in Tokyo on January 17. Photo: REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon
business

Japan Inc opens door to more women directors, but managers remain rare

47 Comments
By Anton Bridge

Mitsuko Tottori's appointment as Japan Airlines' next president makes her something of a rarity in Japan - a female head of a well known company.

While Japanese firms have rapidly lifted the number of female board members in recent years, most are outside directors. Change from within is slower in coming.

Under pressure from the Japanese government, the Tokyo Stock Exchange (TSE) and foreign investors, firms have been scrambling to improve diversity, including on their boards, bringing in external directors who are often lawyers, academics and accountants.

But the diversity push isn't as broad as it could be, critics and governance experts say. Some 30% of women directors sit on multiple boards, double the percentage of men, according to a study of all TSE-listed firms by governance consultancy ProNed.

This reflects Japan's difficulty in promoting from the inside - both board members and company executives - after years of neglecting to cultivate a pipeline of potential women managers, they say.

Traditionally, many Japanese companies had rigid hiring systems classifying employees as either "career track" or "non-career track" - with the non-career workers often the women who did administrative work.

"It's very difficult to convince people of the value of diversity when they haven't seen it in action," Keiko Tashiro, a director and vice president of Daiwa Securities, told Reuters in Davos earlier this month. Since 2005, Daiwa has had measures in place to train new generations of female leaders.

Tashiro is one of the most senior women in Japanese finance, where, like many industries, the top echelons remain overwhelmingly male.

Women account for only 13.4% of directors and executive officers at the 1,836 firms listed on the TSE's "prime" market, and of these a mere 13% are internal hires.

"Many companies say they don't want to promote unqualified females too quickly," says Yuko Yasuda, a director at governance consulting firm Board Advisors Japan. "It may be an excuse."

There are signs of change. Yasuda says more than half of inquiries for board posts are for women and clients are increasingly looking for direct management experience.

Finding women with experience, however, is challenging. Up to now, many Japanese women haven't even entertained the prospect of becoming managers.

"Imposter syndrome is especially strong in Japan," said a spokesperson for HR services provider Recruit Holdings.

The owner of platforms such as job listing website Indeed and company review website Glassdoor, Recruit has made changing this mindset central to its initiatives supporting women's careers.

"We encourage people to further their careers by having various experiences early on," the spokesperson said.

To extend opportunities for management training to a wider pool of candidates, Recruit's domestic subsidiary has created a checklist of core competencies necessary to perform each first-line management position.

It says this helps undo unconscious biases that in the past would privilege "macho" qualities, such as the capacity to work at all hours, and has raised the number of female candidates for each position by a factor of 1.7 and that of men by 1.4.

But initatives such as these take years to filter through to the top, leaving ambitious Japanese women with few role models to inspire and guide them.

Tottori told a JAL press conference earlier this month that she hoped her appointment would encourage women who are struggling with their careers or big life events.

Notwithstanding Tottori, the current crop of female leaders often come from privileged backgrounds or have made immense sacrifices to succeed at work, said Etsuko Tsugihara, founder and CEO of public relations firm Sunny Side Up Group and one of only around 14 women heading a "prime" listed Japanese firm according to a Kyodo and Teikoku Databank study as of January 2023. The company has since moved to the "standard" market.

"When I went to the hospital to give birth, I came straight from the office. Then I was back at work two weeks later," Tsugihara recalled. "It put off other women from doing the same."

Now the employee welfare program at Tsugihara's firm encourages work-life balance for both female and male staff and supports long-term life planning by subsidizing blood screenings, fertility-related hormonal tests and even egg freezing.

"To be a role model you have to have a healthier, richer life," Tsugihara said.

© Thomson Reuters 2024.

©2024 GPlusMedia Inc.

47 Comments
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Congratulations to Mitsuko

Iam sure she's more than capable of a management position and so are many other Women

Japan is slowly becoming a civilized modern nation

Better late than never

-12 ( +10 / -22 )

She's there as a figure head. Nothing more.

The oyajis will still call the shots.

-7 ( +15 / -22 )

How about improving Japan Inc maternal leave, that will be good start.

Japan Govt struggling to improving that.

https://japantoday.com/category/national/tokyo-government-announces-new-name-for-maternity-paternity-leave-hopes-to-change-attitudes-1

-10 ( +9 / -19 )

How about improving Japan Inc maternal leave, that will be good start.

It’s already pretty darn good, isn’t it?

six weeks before the expected birth date (maternity leave)

+

eight weeks after giving birth (maternity leave)

+

one year after birth (childcare leave at 67% of salary tax-free (soon to be 80%), nearly equal to salary before giving birth because of the tax-free status)

+

two years (extension to childcare leave)

+

(Repeat for all subsequent children)

https://japan-dev.com/blog/paternity-maternity-leave-japan?lang=jp

10 ( +18 / -8 )

Diversity was, and never will be more important than ability. Hiring or promoting the wrong person will result in negative results for a company every time.

3 ( +11 / -8 )

Finding women with experience, however, is challenging. Up to now, many Japanese women haven't even entertained the prospect of becoming managers.

Because companies dont train staff to be leaders. Japan Inc stinks when it comes to having staff with actual leadership skills. Far too many are promoted purely by seniority and not ability, and until the "showa" era of senpai and kohai goes by the wayside, things will not change.

Education has to change from ES as well.

4 ( +11 / -7 )

She's there as a figure head. Nothing more.

> The oyajis will still call the shots.

Not only that, I'm worried she could be the fall guy if something bad happens.

-3 ( +5 / -8 )

It's deeper than woman seen as "non-career track" employees. It has been the standard in Japanese culture that once a woman gets married she quits her job and becomes a stay at home mom. This is the main reason why woman didn't get promoted. Companies thought women were just going to quit anyways so why invest in them. Most of the current manages grew up in these type families where the mom stays home. It is their only point of reference. But this system is not as attainable as it was in the past. Two income famines are necessary for many. It's going to take a shift in cultural thinking to make any real progress.

-2 ( +4 / -6 )

@AsiaMan,

Looks good on paper but if they do take full maternity leave they will be put on a much inferior career path than if they hadn’t taken it.

-5 ( +5 / -10 )

Japan's workforce is and has alway been sexist. I remember an all-prefectural meeting of JHS principals in back in 1996. I walked in to show my face and say hello to a principal I happened to be close to and was shocked to find about 100 male and just two female principals. It was basically an old boy gathering.

The article lists the imposter syndrome being strong here for women, but that's not often the case. A woman, who was in my English conversation class, told me how she had been working for over 20 years at the commerce office and was just passed up in promotion by a 26 year old guy. She was peeved to say the least. She was really smart and should've absolutely been the head of that department.

-2 ( +6 / -8 )

There is still a lag here. There is no point forcing the situation. In a few years time there will be a lot more women in the work force who are plenty qualified and experienced to take on these executive roles. The difference in quality between male and female students at university is becoming somewhat of a joke, as has been seen with the university admissions scandals over the past few years.

-1 ( +3 / -4 )

It's only 2024!, better late than never.

-6 ( +3 / -9 )

Japan Inc opens door to more women directors, but managers remain rare

There are way too many manager esk positions in a Japanese company. Above Kacho and Bucho, there's probably something like 50 more positions and 300 positions in between newbie and Kacho (exaggerating). What the heck is a Hon-Bucho and what do they do all day? So I am surprised there are more women directors compared to managers (according to this article).

1 ( +2 / -1 )

she will be used as a scapegoat for later misconduct.

-9 ( +2 / -11 )

Problem for many including Most Women, promotion leads to far more stress, time away from the family and no meaningful pay increases. = Lose: Lose; Lose!

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

More women directors?

Why do calls for "gender equality in the workplace" always involve the C Suite?

I wonder why the "gender equality" advocates never complain about the following "gender gaps":

Firefighters- 88% men

Construction- 94% men

Bricklayers- 98% men

Trash collectors- 95% men

Cable installers- 95% men

Road builders- 96% men

Iron workers- 94% men

Coal miners- 96% men

Electricians- 96% men

Plumbers- 99% men

Nope, we never hear women complain about their under-representation in these sorts of jobs. It's always in terms of women in corner-office power positions.

6 ( +11 / -5 )

Women account for only 13.4% of directors and executive officers at the 1,836 firms listed on the TSE's "prime" market, and of these a mere 13% are internal hires.

And Japanese companies are making record profits. And the Nikkei just hit a record high.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

I wonder why the "gender equality" advocates never complain about the following "gender gaps":

Because women are not underrepresented in low and mid level careers. In fact, they make up the majority of minimum wage and low-income workers ... even if it's not as coal miners.

5 ( +7 / -2 )

Usually though, even the women in any position of power, behave like the same stubborn men we want replacing.

Attitude is the main thing holding Japan back, not gender.

-6 ( +3 / -9 )

@AsiaMan7 - I hear you, and fair points.

There are downsides and many factors not making it ideal as well.

One being a person's salary may be less than one realizes. Salary is not bonus for example (which is given up completely with paternity leave) etc. There are also upper maximum caps on the income from paternity leave, etc.

Life is good but it is also very expensive in Tokyo.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

She's not really in charge though. Guaranteed there's an old Japanese man higher up than her making the final decision on everything.

-5 ( +6 / -11 )

That's the same with pretty much all j companies.

-5 ( +2 / -7 )

PseudonymouseToday  06:50 am JST

Congratulations to Mitsuko

Iam sure she's more than capable of a management position and so are many other Women

Japan is slowly becoming a civilized modern nation

Better late than never

Incorrect. Japan is slowly becoming an advanced modern nation and accepting the standards of such countries. Japan has been "civilized" for a very very long time.

2 ( +6 / -4 )

A step in the right direction. Japan is increasing female directors but still short on female managers, according to this headline,

Directors appoint the Officers, who appoint the managers. In time that will trickle down as the old men still stuck in their patriarchal ways pass on.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

Nope, we never hear women complain about their under-representation in these sorts of jobs. It's always in terms of women in corner-office power positions.

So? If women choose to go into those fields, then let them be promoted on merit, just like the corner office, not based upon their sex.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

owzerToday  08:07 am JST

Diversity was, and never will be more important than ability. Hiring or promoting the wrong person will result in negative results for a company every time.

Agree to a certain extent but Japan is a special case here. The overzealous push and the disastrous results in the West to push diversity, inclusion and equity has served as a warning and a time for pause for us, but Japan's old boys club ( the architects and enablers of the lost decades ) is a blaring example that some sort of change is sorely needed. Japan can learn the lessons from the West and plot a safer, smarter course that doesn't become overly combative or divisive. Playing to the better natures of people, the feminine side if you must, rather than swinging at anyone that dares to question and disagree. The reality is that Japan simply won't survive another two decades of decline at this pace, so the time to strike the iron is now.

The challenge is how to usher in and facilitate the change. Women in general tend to be better communicators, better problem solvers and better connectors, and in my experience, more open to diverse viewpoints and ideas. So the more ladies behind the big desks we see the better. As this article pointed out, not just at the top, but in middle-level management as well. The life/work balance needs a look, and there desperately needs to be a productivity revolution. More for less, rather than this long-hour professional time-wasting stuff we still see now. It'll take some master goal-setting and communication skills to steer the old ship to more productive waters, one that everyone must be on board but not impossible.

I do worry about the tendency to window-dress the problem though, we've probably all seen it in our own J workspaces. Pretending to be working on a problem for the cameras and optics, while in reality, the old guard is just digging in deeper behind the scenes. This must not be allowed to happen and everyone will need to share some agency and responsibility to speak up when it does. The best thing to do is to make leaders accountable for the decisions ie able ( and willing) to explain them, and more importantly also to have a work culture that dares to ask questions! It"s everyones mission and if done well could be the meritocracy that we all dream about! Lead the way ladies, if you are better than the old boys people WILL follow.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

HopeSpringsEternal

Problem for many including Most Women, promotion leads to far more stress, time away from the family and no meaningful pay increases. = Lose: Lose; Lose!

Surely this is exactly the same for Most Men.

The plus side is more recognition, pay and power in the company.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

Yubaru

Nope, we never hear women complain about their under-representation in these sorts of jobs. It's always in terms of women in corner-office power positions.

So? If women choose to go into those fields, then let them be promoted on merit, just like the corner office, not based upon their sex.

That would be a welcome change from the status quo in Japan, where men are not promoted on merit, but based upon their sex.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

Nope, we never hear women complain about their under-representation in these sorts of jobs. It's always in terms of women in corner-office power positions.

You realise that the power dynamic is the problem, not equal representation in every field. Of course there are some jobs that are better served by men or women. Sorry not sorry.

However, In a world made up of approximately 50% women, it seems only fair that 50% of the important decisions that govern our society are made by them. Does physical strength make better decision makers?

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

However Ricky, I'm interested to know what you mean by ". The overzealous push and the disastrous results in the West to push diversity, inclusion ..."?

Speak to any poor sod who was forced to do a managerial-level diversity and inclusion 'seminar' ( re-education camp ), especially those designed in the states for export. They are the polar opposite of unity and goodwill. An extra layer of angst and stress that no one asked for or needs. In most reported cases they make things worse not better too, so there's that.

The disastrous results I am referring to are the cancel culture, uptight, eyes-down repressive workspaces where identity politics and self-censorship have made everyone walk on eggshells and self-censor to the point of not even bothering. Humor has well and truly left the building! Thanks, but no thanks.

However, In a world made up of approximately 50% women, it seems only fair that 50% of the important decisions that govern our society are made by them. 

Equity is a race to the bottom. Equality of opportunity yes, equality of outcome? Now we get to the core of the issue.

How's this for a research question? One of the reasons conservative Japan actively resists change could even be a direct result of witnessing the excesses and grand failures of the activist class in the West, who don't know when they've taken things too far or where to draw the line. The radical ideological left who sees everything through the lens of power. The simpletons oppressor vs oppressed mindset, one that sets us all against each other. Divisive to the very core.

Japan would do well to steer clear of these dangerous 'problem solvers'.. Do it, but let them do it their way; minus the need for re-education camps. Yikes! Stay classy Japan.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

When you become a manager with subordinates you immediately double your work load and have to enter the minefields of interpersonal relations, power and sexual harassment risks and being subject to the same abuse from above. Many feel it is not worth it especially when it is extremely difficult to fire or reprimand problem workers.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Looks good on paper but if they do take full maternity leave they will be put on a much inferior career path than if they hadn’t taken it.

And justifiably so! A parent who chooses to have three children and take three years of childcare leave for each child should not expect to be on the same career path as a colleague who has spent the past decade at the company mastering the business.

Equally, if a man were to take off for 10 years to care for an ageing parent (if that were allowed), he should not expect to be able to return to the office on the same career path as a woman who has spent the past decade advancing the company’s business.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

There's a lot of talk there RIck but not a lot makes sense; taken what too far? What is the evidence they have taken it too far except for your angst?

How much time do you have?

https://youtu.be/VZSusqfJeD4?si=Iq-gJP374nte3vFL

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

It's well known most women play a far larger family role than their husbands/partners, so opportunity cost are far higher if greater professional stress and responsibility.

It's another reason why so many women choose not to get married and/or have kids these days. Making society unsustainable = aging and depopulation.

Exceptions exist, but statistical trends OBVIOUS, believe you're LYING EYES, Japan's oldest country in the world, average women in Tokyo, LESS than 1 kid on average.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

People without kids never consider 'cost' parents do of their kids not being properly raised, loved, etc. Thus, time consuming promotions very costly, especially if family does need more money and is sufficiently comfortable.

Again, often such promotions provide little extra cash!

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

Most people, male or female, never become directors of large corporations. Some people, myself included, don't even want to climb a corporate ladder. I would not want such a position even if were offered to me.

What matters is how most women are treated in most workplaces, including lower down at JAL, not what happens in boardrooms. It is a very poor metric for judging how women are getting on in society.

6 ( +8 / -2 )

Please understand that men have been hired over women more capable than them for generations so what has changed?

Not saying what has changed. I'm saying that if, as you say, men have been hired over women more capable than them, then that is a bad idea, and has likely cost the company money.

I don't think they will be hiring women whoa re not capable. There is a lot of money and stakeholders at stake.

If they are hiring based on ability and whether they are a good match for the position, then there is no reason to make an issue out of hiring women. Or men. Or raccoon dogs. Or anime characters. If Pikachu can get the job done better than any other applicant, hire Pikachu!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

On a more serious note, though:

The list of jobs the chap showed are not all low paid at all.

I did not say they were. I said "low or mid level". The mentioned jobs, while not necessarily being low-paid, are distinctly not executive-level jobs, are they?

They are hard some dirty jobs most women don’t want.

Women do not ask for biological equality. They are asking not to be discriminated against because of their sex, at any level.

Not being qualified to do a job (in this case because of physical strength requirements) is not discrimination. Discrimination is being qualified for a job and being rejected because they are women. And I feel I should not even have to explain that.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

I currently have a bit to do with super smart, highly educated, multilingual Japanese, Korean, Chinese women who are native level English speakers because they come through the International schooling system in Tokyo. I was completely shocked when I first met them - they are contemporary thinkers, global minded, sound like they've grown up in the US, some of the most impressive people I've come across anywhere in the world. My first thought on meeting them was 'My god! Why aren't these people running this country???'

'Course, the answer is Japan Inc. Almost all of them study abroad if they can, and exactly none of them have any desire to work in Japan, especially not within the rigid boys club of the corporate world. And why would they? There is literally nothing for them in that world whatsoever, and they know it, despite their considerable talents. In fact their talents I venture to suggest, are simply too substantial for Japan Inc to know what to do with. Heaven forbid they be more capable than the boys. Heaven forbid Japan promoted talent over gender. Heaven forbid they lead corporate Japan into a more contemporary world.

The boys don't want that, and its silly stuff.

These women in these positions would be tough, hard nosed fighters who have put up with a stack of nonsense to get where they are, so my hat goes off to them. But there is a whole pool of talent that have much better options that simply aren't interested in wasting their time with it.

And Japan is the poorer for it.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

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