by Evelyn Tokuyama
November 11th, 2014

There is a golden opportunity right now for corporate leadership to leverage the ‘womenomics’ movement – Japan’s strategy for empowering women in Japan.

In order to sustain a viable workforce and thwart the threat of Japan’s shrinking and aging population, it’s more important than ever for companies in Japan to embrace womenomics, one of the core components of  Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s overall growth strategy.

At the 2014 World Economic Forum Annual Meeting, Abe made the “Davos promise”: “…the female labour force in Japan is the most under-utilised resource. Japan must become a place where women shine. By 2020 we will make 30% of leading positions to be occupied by women. In order to have a large number of women become leading players in the market we will need a diverse working environment.”

Some brands have already jumped on the bandwagon. For example, a major convenient store chain in Japan has made efforts to offer healthier snack alternatives and lunch options for women on-the-go by hiring a team of female product developers. Other well-known corporations have also been vocal about increasing the number of female managers within their organizations, to reach Abe’s ’30% by 2020′ goal.

Companies that choose not to engage in the womenomics initiatives run the risk of having their reputations tarnished, while competitors are engaging untapped and under-utilised talent found when more females are participating in the workforce. News relating to the issue is often published in traditional newspapers, as well as online, where the stories gain traction across social media platforms.

For companies not sure where to start, try working to implement initiatives in the following six areas, as outlined in Goldman Sach’s Womenomics 4.0: Time to Walk the Talk:

1. Stress the business case for diversity because it positively correlates with corporate performance
Research shows that sustaining women on a board of directors improves corporate reputation, financial and group performance, and marketplace reflection, indicating clear benefits of gender diversity.

2. Create more flexible work environments
Employers, senior management in particular, should actively encourage more flexible work arrangements (including job-sharing and tele-commuting) for working parents. Equally important, those with flexible work arrangements should not be discriminated against in terms of career opportunities and compensation.

3. Adopt fair and objective evaluation, compensation and promotion schemes
Performance and output should take precedence over seniority and hours worked

4. Set clear diversity targets and hold senior management accountable for reaching them
Gender diversity statistics should be released in a consistent format and regularly, addressing progress, goals and targets as well.

5. Introduce a more flexible employment contract
In Japan, there are two main employment tracks: “career” (sogo-shoku) and “non-career” (ippan-shoku) roles. Typically, Japanese women select “non-career” roles where investment in training, promotion and salary is much more limited.

6. Engage the majority, the male leaders, to promote a diversity agenda
Get involved with organisations working to improve gender diversity. Active programmes in Japan include:

  1. J-Win: “Japan Women’s Innovative Network” — an NPO launched in 2007 that promotes gender diversity management, training and networking activities for women employed in the private sector
  2. Women Corporate Directors (WCD) Japan: The Japan chapter of WCD aims to promote more women on Japanese corporate boards

It is refreshing to see that attitudes about women in the work force are gradually shifting in a progressive direction, especially in Japan’s younger generations. Nonetheless, senior leadership carries a high level of influence to accelerate change within their organisations, and at the same time, to mould their corporate reputations in order to survive in today’s fiercely competitive global market.

Evelyn Tokuyama is senior account executive, at Weber Shandwick Japan

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