The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan


JULY 2014
Agents of Change
By Brandi Goode
Photos by Benjamin Parks and Irwin Wong

cover-1When Kathy Matsui, managing director at Goldman Sachs, coined the term Womenomics in 1999, she asserted that women were Japan’s most underutilized asset. Until recently, the issue of gender inclusion in the workforce remained a niche topic.

Seeing ACCJ President Jay Ponazecki, US Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy, and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe standing shoulder-to-shoulder on stage in front of a packed room, it became clear this economic strategy had finally come to the fore.

Abe has set a target of having women in 30 percent of leadership roles by 2020, yet as of this year, they only occupy 1.2 percent of top positions. A broad-based shift in mindset is imperative, Ponazecki explained, which includes both men and women championing the cause.

“We hope this summit will be a key stepping stone in moving from an aspirational discussion to taking decisive action,” said Ponazecki, in her opening address at the 2014 Women in Business (WIB) Summit on May 27. “The time is truly now, but there’s a tremendous amount of ground to cover by then [2020].”

Irene Hirano Inouye echoed the need for an inclusive approach. Inouye is the president and co-founder of the U.S.–Japan Council (USJC), which administers the TOMODACHI Initiative.

The USJC co-hosted the sold-out summit with the ACCJ. It was the largest full-day event the chamber has hosted to date, with 740 attendees.

“The advancement of women today and in the future is not a women’s issue, it’s a global issue. We need to ensure cultural change happens to ensure true change,” Inouye said.

Speeches by both Kennedy and Abe reinforced the opening session’s message that it is time for action. Royanne Doi, chief ethics officer at Prudential Financial, who served as the Master of Ceremonies, called the WIB Summit the “Seneca Falls moment” for Japan, referring to the 1848 US convention, touted as the first official women’s rights gathering.

Kennedy’s speech was peppered with relevant historical references to female role models in both the United States and Japan, including third-generation Japanese-American Patsy Matsu Takamoto Mink, the woman behind the landmark Title 9 legislation in the United States.

“The statistics are compelling and leadership is shining a light on the issue. We now have a generation of women eager to change the course of history—you,” Kennedy said.

The ambassador also spoke to a nagging concern about Womenomics: that women will cannibalize men’s jobs. She explained how, if managed properly, women’s success will increase the overall economic pie through a virtuous cycle of business expansion, elevated incomes, more consumer spending, and, eventually, job creation.

“In macroeconomic terms, there will be enough dessert for everyone,” she emphasized.

Kennedy touched on many of the challenges surrounding traditional gender and working roles in Japan, but pointed to research showing that women balancing career and family are happiest. She cited a Pew study concluding that the most satisfied parents are married couples working as a team to raise their children.

Further, she said women must set an example that you don’t have to stay at work until 9pm every night.

“We can all become architects for change in our own lives,” she added.

The prime minister took the stage and proclaimed that Abenomics cannot succeed without Womenomics. Historically, he said, economies have been driven by men, but actually women are the main consumers. “Empowering women is at the core of my policy,” Abe said.

Christopher LaFleur, ACCJ chairman, moderated a session in which four prominent Japanese women, all of whom have studied at US universities, gave a direct message to the prime minister and the audience.

    Atsumi Arima, Mizuho Bank, Ltd.:

“My advice to juniors: pursue your job with zeal and readily take on challenges. Think about the added value you can offer to clients and those around you.”

    Mitsuru Claire Chino, Itochu Corporation:

“Leverage good talent, regardless of gender. I am hoping for a public policy that will make our country shine.”

  • Naoko Yamazaki, astronaut:

“Adopt a long-term view and take on whatever challenges come your way. I hope for speedy government action, with flexibility.”

    Chie Shimpo, Nomura Trust and Banking Co., Ltd.:

“As things change around us, we should change ourselves. Be flexible and have a spirit of playfulness. For Prime Minister Abe, I think men also need to change, so I want further support on this.”


PPE partnership
The second plenary session of the day focused on cooperation among various sectors of the economy—namely, public, private, and education (PPE) partnership opportunities.

Sakie Fukushima, president and representative director of G&S Global Advisors, Inc. and a vice chairperson of Keizai Doyukai (Japan Association of Corporate Executives), spoke on behalf of the private sector.

Admittedly progress has been slow, she said, as Japan still ranks very low in terms of the presence of women on executive boards.

From 2004 to 2013, the proportion of female board members went from 0.7 percent to 3.1 percent of the total, but she insists this is really nothing impressive. In China and France, where quotas have been established for female board presence, the results have been far better.

Minister of State for Gender Equality Masako Mori then took the stage to speak about the government side of the equation.

“My job is to empower women,” she said. She spoke about how the Abe administration is offering incentives to women-friendly companies, and gave a detailed outline for plans to improve the environment for childrearing in Japan.

This includes a mandated increase in the percentage of salary paid during childcare leave. New parents now receive 67 percent of their pre-leave salary levels, as opposed to the 50 percent that has been the standard for many years.

Mariko Bando, president of Showa Women’s University, had much to say about education’s role in supporting women in the workplace. Bando, who has authored dozens of books, emphasized how important it is for young women to have role models in their career.

She also strongly believes women should not abandon their careers when they get married, have children, or encounter rough spots. “We have to think about how to become independent,” she said.


Interaction and insights
There were a total of 12 breakout sessions. Here are a few of the highlights.


    Leveraging Diversity and Inclusion

To truly live up to the diversity promise, Georges Desvaux, managing partner at McKinsey & Company, Inc., insisted long-term efforts are necessary. There must be a visible commitment backed by executives, Desvaux said. He advocates sponsoring women as leaders.

“Mentoring is the old guy you have a Starbucks with,” he said. Collaboration between business leaders and HR departments is also growing in importance, he added.

Gerald Lema, chairman and president, Japan, Baxter Limited, said at least one woman should be included in all succession plans. “In Japan, hiring is often delegated to HR, which I disagree with.”

Baxter has been recognized for its Building Talent Edge initiative, which strives to develop a 50–50 gender balance across management-level and critical positions in the Asia–Pacific region. “I can think of no arrangement we could not accommodate, to live the commitment and help women returning to the workforce,” Lema said.

This flexible approach to labor management was also important for Akane Kozuru, customer service manager at Cisco Systems, G.K. “I prioritize my work and am not afraid to leave on time, to set the example for the team,” Kozuru said.

“I used to hire teams who thought alike to make the decision-making process smooth. I learned that we can tackle problems better because of the creativity and innovation present in diverse teams, even though decisions may take longer,” she said.

All of the panelists were adamant that there are no excuses for not executing diversity and inclusion initiatives.

Koichi Umemori, vice president of HR at The Bank of New York Mellon Corporation, Tokyo, told the audience he had just $1,500 this year for diversity and inclusion programs; last year he had zero.



    Leaders and Role Models

Two breakout sessions, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, featured high-profile executives of well-known companies discussing how to cultivate leaders.

Sarah Casanova, president and CEO of McDonald’s Japan, firmly believes in the “shadow of a leader” philosophy: managers should exhibit the behaviors they want to see in their teams.

Her style of leadership is a collaborative one, relying on listening to her team and realizing that “none of us is as good as all of us. As my mom said, ‘you don’t drive the train, you lay the tracks.’”

Casanova emphasized how family comes first and advised managers to “love what you do and do what you love.”

Tim Brett, representative director and president of Coca-Cola (Japan) Co., Ltd., echoed that. “Work–life balance implies these are two different things; if we enjoy our work it’s a different story,” Brett said.

He went on to discuss what his company did to address the bane of overtime. Coca-Cola used to pay for staff’s dinner if they stayed late, and paid their taxis home if they missed the last train, which his team realized was actually enabling the behavior they wanted to erase.

He added that it is important to frequently ask staff for their opinion on their jobs and workplace.

However, according to Paul Amos II, president of Aflac, if you ask people for their opinion, be ready to do something about it.

He commented on how important it is for HR leaders to act on feedback, as it seems they often react anxiously to people giving opinions, rather than viewing such feedback as an opportunity. “Valuing our people is critical,” Amos said.

Ryan Napierski, representative director and president of Nu Skin Japan, said 40 percent of people in management at his com
pany are women. “For our industry it makes a lot of sense, especially as women are our main customers,” he said. “Plus, diversity will always trump homogeneity.”


Myth-busting data
Kathy Matsui, deemed “the mother of Womenomics,” gave a charged presentation replete with statistical support proving beyond doubt why including women in the workforce makes economic sense.

By 2060, Japan’s total population will decrease by 30 percent, with the percentage of the elderly going from 25 percent to 40 percent.

There are three options to address a declining workforce: raise the birth rate, permit more immigration, and/or boost labor participation rates. She then set about refuting four myths surrounding Womenomics, with hard numbers to support her case.

    Myth 1: Women tend to quit after childbirth.

• Some 63 percent of Japanese women leave their jobs due to push factors, such as an unsatisfying career with a lack of role models.
• In the United States, twice as many women as in Japan quit their jobs to care for children (pull factor). Thus Abe’s plan to boost childcare services won’t solve the problem.

    Myth 2: Workplace diversity doesn’t impact the national economy or companies’ profitability.

• GDP could go up 12.5 percent by closing the gender employment gap.
• Companies with three or more female board members have vastly improved ROE and ROC versus those without women on the board.

    Myth 3: Higher female employment equals lower birth rates.

• Scandinavian countries have some of the highest female employment and birth rates.
• Adopting flexible working schemes, merit-based assessments, and equal benefits for regular and non-regular workers are strategies to keep women in their jobs and simultaneously boost the birth rate.

    Myth 4: Women don’t want to go back to work after having kids.

• A Center for Work-Life Policy survey showed nearly as many Japanese women wanted to re-enter the workforce (77 percent) as women in the US (89 percent) and Germany (78 percent).

The summit ended on a merry note, with Deborah Hayden, co-chair of the ACCJ Women in Business Committee, giving a spirited summary of the day’s events.

“Today was not about Prime Minister Abe, nor about Ambassador Kennedy, as grateful as we are for their attendance. Today was about everyone in this room. Your charge is to go back to work and do just one thing differently to ensure that women’s participation in business is not only recognized, but promoted,” Hayden said.

Ambassador Kennedy also left the morning audience with an inspiring quote.

“Never doubt that a small group of committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
– Margaret Mead, Cultural anthropologist (1901–1978) •