The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan

Untapped Potential—the new white paper from the Women in Business Committee (WIB)—has been called, by President Christopher J. LaFleur, the most important white paper the chamber has ever issued.

Makiko Tachimori (Fukui)

Makiko Tachimori (Fukui)

Nearly two years in the making, this collaborative blueprint for improving the position of women in the workplace is the result of tireless labor by the WIB advocacy team, American Chamber of Commerce in Japan (ACCJ) members and staff, outside researchers and editors, many cooperating organizations, and supporting companies. It represents the ACCJ’s dedication to helping realize the government of Japan’s “2020/30” overall target of women holding 30 percent of management and leadership positions
by 2020.

On June 1, a launch event was held at the Tokyo American Club during which three male champions of women leaders spoke. Sharing the efforts their organizations are making to reach the goal were Makoto Kuwahara, chief country officer, Japan at the Deutsche Bank Group; Yoichi Miyamoto, chairman of the board and representative director at Shimizu Corporation; and Yosuke Akiyoshi, CEO of Lancers, Inc.

After LaFleur’s opening remarks, in which he said the paper “speaks to the fundamental issues that are undergirding the Japanese economy and provide what we hope are good recommendations for how Japan can make further progress,” the white paper team of Makiko Tachimori (Fukui), Corinne Johnson—both WIB vice chairs—and ACCJ Governor A. Barry Hirschfeld took the stage.

The team thanked all involved in the paper’s development and outlined the key issues and 10 recommendations found in the document.

“We hope that the recommendations will help HR think about how to empower women with leadership tools, promote mentorship, and also educate male leaders on how to effectively sponsor women and embrace the idea of women leaders,” Johnson explained.

Hirschfeld spoke of the progress that has been made and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s support of women in leadership roles, adding that what is needed now is a solution. “Hopefully the white paper can be a little movement to pull together a lot of different policy initiatives that have been put forward. There really is no silver bullet for this—it’s really going to take the government and the private sector working together.”

Then Tachimori spoke eloquently of her struggles raising her daughter as a working woman. She encouraged everyone to take action. “We now have 10 great recommendations. Each of us can be a spokesperson to promote this. The more change agents we have, the faster we can achieve our goals.”

Corinne Johnson and A. Barry Hirschfeld

Corinne Johnson and A. Barry Hirschfeld

The first guest speaker, Makoto Kuwahara of the Deutsche Bank Group, spoke about recommendation number two: Male Champions of Change.

He explained that Deutsche Bank has a diverse staff comprising individuals from 149 countries, and described the supervisory board system they have in Germany that addresses diversity and equality. The company started its initiative on diversity in Japan 10 years ago. Recently, men began participating in the Deutsche Bank women’s group. They work to get feedback from women in the workplace so they can improve the environment for women, and the men there are ready to promote diversity in gender, orientation, and ethnicity.

Kuwahara also talked about the need to establish a company culture that makes it easier for women to take advantage of available initiatives. “This requires the involvement of men,” he explained. “They must be more involved in building the company culture.”

Shimizu Corporation’s Yoichi Miyamoto spoke next about the challenges of advancing women to leadership positions in his company, whose culture goes back to its founding in 1804. Of 10,751 employees, only 1,507 are women (14%). Only 49 of these women (1.1%) are in management positions. But that’s up from 19 (0.5%) in 2014, and Miyamoto said he is optimistic that they can quadruple the number by 2019.

Shimizu Corporation now has a dedicated HR team of four working specifically on diversity, and Miyamoto highlighted two initiatives that are in line with the white paper’s tenth recommendation: Employee Assistance Programs / Concierge Services.

The first addresses the fact that their field (construction) is so male-dominated. A program to teach staff about women is offered to help men accept and value female colleagues. This program, Miyamoto said, has begun to change the company’s culture.

Another assistance program allows women to take a half day of paid leave—rather than being forced to take a full day—so they can deal with needs like taking their children to get flu shots.

The third guest speaker, Yosuke Akiyoshi, talked about crowdsourcing. He also introduced his company, Lancers, through which women can work over the internet to make better use of their skills while staying at home. This model, he explained, is especially helpful for single mothers and women in their 40s, who often have difficulty returning to the workforce after raising children.

ACCJ Chairman and President Emeritus Jay Ponazecki

ACCJ Chairman and President Emeritus Jay Ponazecki


The three presentations were followed by a Q&A session during which additional key points were made. Kuwahara pointed out the need for young women to see that it is possible to rise to a leadership position. For this to be clear, he said, there must be women leaders in the company who can serve as role models. Miyamoto returned to the need for the construction industry to eliminate gender-based discrimination, and Akiyoshi spoke of the advantages women bring to a company.

ACCJ Chairman and President Emeritus Jay Ponazecki provided closing comments with a recap of gains—Japan has moved up to 101 from 104 on the World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Index—and the steps that remain. “Yes there’s still much to be done, but you should applaud the progress that has been made so far over a very short period of time,” she said. “We are confident that, with further integrated, collaborative, and partnership-based approaches, and the implementation of the recommendations set forth in this white paper, significant progress will continue to be made.”

LaFleur closed out the event by presenting certificates of appreciation and ACCJ mugs to the panelists, and thanked Ponazecki for her leadership as the majority of the white paper development took place on her watch.


Christopher Bryan Jones is Editor-in-chief of The Journal. Originally from Birmingham, Alabama, he has lived in Japan since 1997.
The more change agents we have, the faster we can achieve our goal.