Women in Japanese Business: A Panel Discussion
Blog by Eli Schwartz
Diversity at the workplace with a heavy focus on gender balance is a discussion topic with growing popularity in the US media and HR conferences. Possibly as a result of the increased attention, strides have been made in improving the opportunities for women in the corporate world.
As was underscored by a recent panel discussion specifically on the topic of Women in Japanese Business, Japan is one of those places that still has a lot of room to improve on this topic. The panel led by Dr. Richard Dasher of Stanford’s US –Asia Technology Management Center brought together views from across a wide spectrum of experiences in the Japanese workplace or in working with Japanese clients.
Ari Horie is the Founder and CEO of the Women’s Startup Lab http://womenstartuplab.com/.
Previously she held corporate roles including marketing at IBM. Her experience trying to build a startup highlighted the specific challenges women face in building a company, and she later pivoted to creating an accelerator designed to help female entrepreneurs succeed.
Miki Matsui is a Senior Manager for Business Development at Xacti Corporation http://xacti-co.com/en/. At the beginning of her career she spent 13 years at NTT, the largest telecom in Japan. She also spent time at the Japan subsidiary of SUN Microsystems, Elsevier Japan, and Reed Business Information.
Elizabeth Shoemaker is a partner at the Law Offices of David A. Makman http://makmanlaw.com/, a Bay Area law firm with international focus. After graduating college, Liz went to Japan for what was intended to be a one year job, and ended up living and working in Japan for ten out of the next thirteen years. During her time in Japan she taught English, worked at Fujitsu, built a startup and even taught ski lessons on the weekend.
The panel members were in complete agreement that women face significant challenges in the Japanese workplace. Despite higher female participation in the overall workforce in Japan vs the US, only 9% of managerial positions in Japan are held by women. The sentiments of the panel were that it is difficult for women to get promoted or be presented with the same opportunities as their male counterparts.
Rather than an overt bias, they attributed the workplace challenges for women to a byproduct of an overall intense work environment for all its participants. Men are practically required to stay at the office until their boss leaves, join the team on frequent outings for drinks or dinner after work, and accept every invitation to spend similar after-work time with the boss or clients, even when doing so conflicts with their personal or family commitments. Within this aggressive culture women get passed over if they aren’t forceful enough to demand opportunities and insert themselves into the office politics, but such forcefulness conflicts with traditional women’s roles in society.
The panel ended with a sense of optimism that change is beginning in Japan. Many people in the younger generation of Japanese workers are taking stands against extreme work culture and are making efforts to achieve a new paradigm of work/life balance. Men in senior positions at large companies see the need to have more women in leadership and are supporting women in their organizations in their career growth goals.
On the government side, Prime Minister Abe has set targets for increasing female presence in managerial positions and the government is working to solve the massive deficit in day care availability. (In 2013, there was a waiting list of over 400,000 to get a child into daycare!) While there aren’t yet punitive measures if a company fails to achieve its gender diversity goals, the panel considered the government’s mandate of company-specific numeric targets to be a strong step in the right direction. The government objectives will encourage women to be more ambitious in their careers and will significantly widen the pool of skilled women for companies to draw talent. This is a positive outcome for all women in the Japanese workforce and even for the overall economy.
Eli Schwartz is Director of International Marketing for SurveyMonkey and oversees SurveyMonkey’s marketing efforts outside the US. He just returned from nearly 2 years in Singapore where he led SurveyMonkey’s marketing for the APAC region. Eli has consulted with numerous startups and online enterprises, helping them build user acquisition strategies, and he is a growth marketing advisor at accelerators and incubators in the US, Singapore, Indonesia, and Malaysia. He has keynoted at marketing conferences across Asia and the US, and he is a frequent guest columnist on search and marketing blogs. He maintains a blog on businesses in Asia at http://www.demystifyasia.com/ and he also blogs on marketing topics at http://www.elischwartz.co/.