Why aren’t there more female managers in Japanese companies?

Author: Kumiko Nemoto, Senshu University

Japan is still a long way from achieving the government’s target of having 30% of its leaders be women. In 2019, only 11% of Japanese business leaders and only 5 percent of council members were women, against 43 percent managers in the United States and 39 percent in Sweden.

Japan differs from liberal market economies like the United States, where women are integrated into the economy and gender equality contributes to market efficiency and corporate profits. Unlike social democratic countries – such as Scandinavia, where states respond to gender-equal reforms in the private and public spheres – Japan has traditionally relied heavily on the gendered division of labor within the workforce. work and family.

For decades, Japanese companies have only hired a small number highly qualified women in management sectors, while hiring thousands of men for the same positions. Years of gender-sensitive hiring practices mean that today, many Japanese companies have few or no female managers. To save on labor costs, many companies continue to rely on large numbers of non-managerial, part-time and temporary workers, most of whom are women. In 2020, around 55% of employed women worked asnon-regular workers“While only 22% of men did.

A system of hierarchy, pay and promotions based on age as well as daily overwork are at the heart of the Japanese tradition of lifelong employment. The chances of promotion are largely determined by age and not by individual skills or performance, and it can take 20 to 30 years to become a manager. Long years of pre-promotion work and daily overwork, combined with babysitting responsibilities, make it difficult for women coordinate career and family and reduce leadership aspirations.

Japanese companies and politics continues to be controlled by men in their seventies, eighties and nineties. Having lived through the growth of post-war Japan, these leaders seem reluctant to make changes to existing business systems, including gender-biased customs. But foreign shareholders have pressured Japan to adopt corporate practices that more closely resemble Anglo-American gender equality standards in the workplace.

Japanese companies have made superficial adjustments, more increase their stock price than to make fundamental changes, while continuing to preserve the traditional economic model. With the globalization of corporate governance and pressure from foreign investors and US proxy advisers, Japanese companies have increased the number of female board members and directors to appeal to foreign investors and stabilize market prices. actions, the number increasing 1 percent in 2006 at 5 percent in 2018.

This means that Japanese companies do not see gender inequality as a social issue, but as an investor relationship issue. To symbolically increase the number of women on boards of directors is not a solution. While foreign institutional investors play a disciplinary role in the reform of corporate governance, the majority of shareholders in many Japanese companies are Japanese, including banks, institutional investors, commercial enterprises and individuals. This means that foreign pressure has a limited impact.

Whether Japanese investors join with foreign investors in pressuring companies to act on gender inequality, or if they follow the lead of Japanese corporate activism – such as the 30% Club Japan, originally launched in the UK, which includes 25 foreign and Japanese institutional investors and promotes diversity management – serious change may be possible.

In the field of education, the entry rates of women to colleges are increasing steadily and are almost equal for women and men. But the gender gap in elite colleges remains large. Japanese companies hire college graduates based on brands and university rankings, so an increase in female enrollments could greatly improve the hiring of women in companies. Currently, women make up roughly 20 percent all students of the University of Tokyo and 22 percent at Kyoto University.

At this point, the best graduates in Japan prefer to work for American and European companies, rather than for Japanese companies. It is known that elite graduates in Japan intentionally avoiding Japanese companies Due to their gender barriers, strategically enroll in overseas MBA programs to become stronger candidates in the global job market.

Japanese families also continue to be shaped by unequal gender divisions. Women are expected to develop leadership skills and gain economic independence, but also to undertake the unequal division of labor expected in marriage and family life. On average, women with children under six spend a total of 454 minutes on daily household chores and childcare, where men spend 83 minutes. Even though Japan’s ideological emphasis on women as wives, mothers and caretakers of the family has slowly dissipated, the unequal gender divide within the family remains strong, reflecting women’s lack of power. at work.

Japanese companies and policymakers have not done enough to change Japanese management and business customs, or to align with Anglo-American or Scandinavian models of gender equality in the workplace. But there are steps Japan can take to increase the number of female leaders, starting with expanding the recruitment and promotion of women, compensating for education gaps, and promoting marriage and family life. egalitarian.

Kumiko Nemoto is PProfessor of Management at the School of Business Administration at Senshu University, Tokyo.


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