More listed firms fostering female managers

Policies that had supported work-life balance now focus on women building their careers




The Japan Times


An increasing number of publicly traded Japanese companies are actively fostering female managers to assume leadership roles in the future. Government initiatives to promote the active involvement of women in both the business community and society have spurred a heightened awareness in the corporate world that appointing diverse talent will help enhance competitiveness. Furthermore, global developments highlighting potential corporate risks associated with the absence of female executives are also driving the initiatives of Japanese companies. In 2017, leading cosmetics manufacturer Shiseido initiated a female leadership training program. Spanning about 10 months, it is designed for aspiring section managers, department managers and executives, equipping them with the essential management skills for their future roles. About 90% of first-time participants in the section manager-level training expressed increased desire for promotion after completing the course, according to company officials. “Most of our customers are women. It’s natural for us to incorporate the perspectives of female leaders in our organization’s decision-making,” Emiko Ashida, deputy chief people officer at Shiseido, said. In the past, Shiseido provided “excessive consideration” to female workers, such as exempting beauty department members who were raising children from working on Saturdays and Sundays, the officials said. The company is now focused on supporting women in building their careers, even while they engage in child care and nursing care responsibilities. Women currently account for about 40% of managers at Shiseido’s domestic business offices, and the company aims to raise the representation to 50% by the year 2030. At Daiwa Securities Group, women occupy about 36% of seats on the board. The company is investing actively in the training of employees at department and section manager levels, with the aim of further increasing the proportion of female executives. Recognizing the importance of staff retaining their own personal style as they progress, “we are encouraging (employees) to develop their own management skills,” an official from Daiwa’s office promoting diversity and inclusion said. Institutional investors have become increasingly stringent in their demands for diversity within companies. The notable resistance encountered by Canon’s proposed reappointment of its president at a general shareholders meeting in March this year reflected disappointment expressed by some U.S. proxy advisory companies regarding the absence of women on the company’s board, according to informed sources. The narrow approval of the proposal served as a cautionary signal that diversity issues could pose management risks. Subsequently, in September, Canon announced its intention to appoint former Consumer Affairs Agency Commissioner Akiko Ito as an outside director. If approved at a shareholders meeting in March next year, Ito would be the first woman to join Canon’s board. Currently, numerous Japanese companies look to external sources for talent when appointing female directors. According to a survey conducted by Japan Research Institute, women constitute 4.4% of in-house board members in companies making up the Tokyo Stock Exchange’s Topix 100 index, whereas they account for more than 30% of outside board members. Eiji Yamada, a counselor at the institute, said Japanese companies “need to increase the number of female managers and provide them with training so that they will actively assume senior positions such as executive officers.” In the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index released earlier this year, Japan was ranked 125th out of 146 countries, underscoring significant gender inequality. The ranking placed Japan very low in the realms of politics and the economy. According to a survey conducted by the Cabinet Office, a mere 9.1% of board seats at listed companies in Japan were held by women as of the end of July last year. To remedy such disparities, the government took action in January this year, mandating many companies to disclose the percentage of women among employees in managerial positions and reveal information about gender pay gaps. Also, the TSE has urged the companies listed on its top-tier Prime section to ensure that at least 30% of their board seats are filled by women by 2030. “The essential issue is how much companies can harness their human capital to achieve growth,” Yasunori Iwanaga of French asset management company Amundi Japan said. “Appointing women is a starting point, and we want (Japanese companies) to outline in their business strategies how they plan to support women in performing well.”