California Connect|Regional Economic Alliances|Business Resources|Careers|Automotive|Energy/Environment|Travel|Entertainment
more sections: 
Featured Advertisement
The Challenge for Women in Japan
By: Dr. Richard King and Cynthia Bennett


Over my long career I have been a first-hand observer of women in the business world in Japan. For many years I was an advisor for Japanese and American businessmen teaching them how to do business within such different cultural mores.  When I think of the many accomplished Japanese women I have met, a particular incidence comes to mind that shows what Japanese women have had to overcome. I will give an example; a prominent Japanese businessman contacted me some years ago asking what the appropriate cultural protocols would be for his upcoming visit to the US.  I shared with him how a gentleman opens doors for our female companions, and to put them essentially first.  His wife wrote me a letter upon their return to Japan, and thanked me for her holiday, since she had benefitted from their time in our country.  She did mention however that as soon as they arrived back in Japan, her husband got into the car that was waiting for them, slammed the door and told her that they were back in Japan now.  This was many years ago, but it gives pause to what women in Japan have to deal with every day.  I am sure that many things have improved for women, but the traditional Japanese culture demands that women take a secondary role to their husbands, and children. 

Japan has lagged behind the US in elevating women to positions of power and authority. Women account for less than 4% of the CEO’s in Japan compared with 4.8% in the US. The wage disparity between men and women shows a different picture with Japanese women making 60% of the wages for similar jobs whereas American women make 81%. This shows that both countries have a long way to go in the wage gender disparity issue, with Japan lagging behind.

Despite these handicaps there are women who have forged ahead, making room for the next generation of women.  In Japan, more women are working than ever before. Prime Minister Abe and his government have realized that they have a ready and willing workforce, well-educated and available.

However there needs to be better options for child care and maternity leave.  With a declining and homogeneous population this is the best option to continue the economic rise of Japan on the world stage.

One woman who I know personally, Hiroko Kawamoto is now a top executive of ANA (All Nippon Airways).  She started as a flight attendant and is now a member of the board of directors, executive vice president and director for Promotion of Diversity, and Operation Division, Inflight Services Center. She has made great strides in the company and ANA has supported her efforts.  She has extended the average age of flight attendants, from 37 to 60.  And her company, ANA, has also worked to create a better environment for families and especially women, offering shorter hours and subsidized day care.  ANA now has a commitment to expand it’s management team to include more women. 

Another company, Taisei, a Japanese construction company educates the husbands of the women working at the company. It is felt that the whole family needs to be supportive of the efforts of the wife and mother to achieve success.  So it seems that it is important for companies to work with women and engage them in the changes needed to keep an educated workforce.

There are many other women in Japan making a name for themselves in business in a smaller capacity.  There are women who are in training to be astronauts, and women opening up small businesses from coffee and tea shops to beauty companies. There are also women in the arts and education, paving the way for the next generation.  When we think of exceptional women in Asia and specifically Japan what we see is a coordinated effort by women, the companies they work for and the government to bring about a shift in the culture. Once the doors are opened by these exceptional women, the younger generations benefit and make the changes permanent.