The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan


January 2014

Committed to Diversity
ACCJ publication identifies and encourages actions to help women in corporate world

Custom Media

Many US corporations operating here can boast benchmark-setting policies on women in the workplace. Dr. Tish Robinson and Vicki Beyer believe that their commitment to diversity will serve Japanese companies, as well as Japan.

Robinson, a professor at Hitotsubashi University’s Graduate School of International Corporate Strategy and an ACCJ governor, and Beyer, an executive director at Morgan Stanley MUFG Securities Co., Ltd. and a vice president of the ACCJ, have been the motivators behind the 2013 ACCJ Diversity CSR Yearbook (page 49), which identifies and encourages measures to advance the situation of women in the corporate world.

“The survey of ACCJ member companies supports Abenomics, which has the promotion of women in the Japanese workforce as one of its key arrows,” said Robinson.

The government has set a target: women are to account for 30 percent of managers at Japanese firms by 2020. When one considers that a study by Catalyst Inc. of 42 OECD member countries reveals that Japan is in 41st place when it comes to the number of women in its boardrooms, it is clear that there is plenty of opportunity for improvement. Only Oman has fewer women in top positions at corporations than Japan.

Sixty-seven ACCJ member companies took part in the yearbook, and 53 in Robinson’s survey, which built on cutting-edge research by numerous academics and labor research institutes. Each of the participating companies reported equal opportunities for recruitment, selection, and promotion.

Robinson singled out General Electric Japan as being “head and shoulders above most global firms.” Law firm Morrison & Foerster, Ito and Mitomi also came in for praise; it has 12 women in senior posts. Meanwhile, Delta Air Lines, Inc. has women accounting for 27 percent of its managers.

“The aim of the survey is to highlight ACCJ member companies’ best practices and to stimulate other companies in this market to utilize this incredible resource as they develop their own diversity programs,” she said.

Drawing on the work of researchers such as Hiroki Sato and Hideo Owan of The University of Tokyo, and Takao Kato of Colgate University and Hitotsubashi University, the survey looked for five practices that contribute significantly to the promotion and advancement of women in management in Japan.

The first key to putting Japanese women in management positions is continuous employment. Companies must identify top talent early on, and let them know they have leadership potential so they see the value of maintaining their careers.

Second, companies need to prepare women to be leaders by providing them with critical, strategic job assignments early on in their careers, so they understand the company’s core competencies, functions, and technologies.

Third, companies need to teach women to lead by assigning them to skilled bosses who can act as role models and mentors, particularly in the early stages of their careers.

Finally, companies need to provide an even playing field for all employees by basing performance evaluations on efficiency rather than on the number of hours an employee works.

“I was pleasantly surprised at the large number of companies that do identify promising staff—male and female—at an early stage and then cultivate them,” said Beyer.

However, she is disappointed that more women aren’t serving on management committees, even at US firms operating here. In addition, she is concerned at the slow pace of change in Japanese society’s attitude to women.

“There are many possible reasons so few women make the breakthrough to Japanese boardrooms,” she said.

A vicious cycle exists in which companies assume that new female recruits will only work for a few years before leaving to get married and have a family. Thus, they fail to invest time and energy in training and developing leadership skills in women. The women leave quickly, sensing they are being overlooked in favor of their male counterparts.

“These women are highly educated, hardworking, and capable. It’s amazing to me that their talent has not been better utilized,” said Robinson. And the potential benefits they represent, she pointed out, are colossal.

Research by Kathy Matsui, head economist at Goldman Sachs Japan Co., Ltd., suggests that, if the female labor participation rate was raised from its current 62 percent to equal that of men at 80 percent, the national GDP could improve by 15 percent.

“In addition to securing better working conditions for women, because they have a rightful claim to such treatment, Japanese women have a great deal to contribute to the Japanese economy,” said Robinson.

The yearbook is available for download at:

Please contact the ACCJ office to request a copy of the book.