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Japan needs more companies that cherish their female workers

Publication Date : 23-05-2013

 

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has trumpeted women’s active involvement in the workforce as a pillar of the government’s growth strategy. He aims to better utilise women’s abilities to invigorate the nation’s economy.

Abe specifically asked for cooperation from the Japan Business Federation (Keidanren) and other organisations in urging all listed companies to appoint at least one female executive. Behind the request was Abe’s awareness that women’s participation in corporate management will also be conducive to companies’ growth.

However, this will be easier said than done. In Japan, many companies remain reluctant to appoint women to managerial positions. Women fill about 40 per cent of managerial and higher positions at companies and the public sector in other advanced countries, including the United States, France and Britain. This is far higher than Japan’s figure of about 12 per cent.

If nothing is done, it will be difficult to achieve the government’s goal of raising the proportion of women in leading positions in every field of society to at least about 30 percent by 2020.

‘Nadeshiko issues’

The reaction by stock exchanges to the government’s request merits attention. They urged listed companies to disclose their number of female executives in the corporate governance reports they require the companies to submit.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Law came into effect in 1986. Women hired for fast-track career positions at that time--part of what has often been called the “equal law generation”--have now climbed to senior positions in their companies.

We believe it is necessary to appoint capable career female workers to executive posts, rather than simply relying on bringing in human resources from outside.

In February, the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry and the Tokyo Stock Exchange selected and announced the names of listed companies--including Kao Corp. and Toray Industries, Inc.--that excellently utilise their human resources by, for example, creating a better environment for women to continue working. These companies are called “Nadeshiko issues”.

“Nadeshiko issues” can be a guide for investors to evaluate a company’s business administration ability to make maximum use of its human resources, as well as its ability to adapt to changes in the business environment.

This new description gained traction after the Abe Cabinet took over proposals made by an expert panel during the administration of former Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and made a request to the stock exchange. Fully using women in the workforce is an issue that every administration must address.

Longer child care leave

Last month, Abe asked leaders of business associations to let women take child care leave for up to three years. The current Child-rearing and Nursing Care Leave Law allows for one year of leave in principle and a maximum of 1-1/2 years. Abe called on companies to voluntarily extend this period.

Extended child care leave would give working women more options, and is one way to help them balance child-rearing and career. However, three years of child care leave will increase costs for companies, and some women fear it could negatively impact on their career and reduce their income. How can these problems be overcome?

The government also should steadily deal with the problem of long waiting lists for children to enroll in licensed day care centers. Setting up more such facilities for children aged 0 to 2, demand for which is especially high, would be one place to start.

 

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