The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan


March 2014
An Engine for Economic Growth
2014 summit aims to be bigger and better
By Elizabeth Handover

Over the past two years, we have seen the government of Japan get serious in its aim to change the environment for working women here.

In 2012, a record number of women were hired to join government staff, while the administration set a goal to increase the number of women in leading roles in all industries to 30 percent by 2020.

The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry announced it would select 100 role-model companies that promote diversity. Meanwhile, a multi-ministerial panel was tasked with creating a new government agency to direct childcare policy.

The ACCJ Women in Business Committee has been at the forefront of supporting change with numerous events, specialist women’s workshops, and a strong women’s advocacy team.

Last year, ahead of a U.S.–Japan Council (USJC) meeting in Tokyo, we were inspired to build on the synergy and organized our first ACCJ/USJC Women in Business Summit.

The conference was successful beyond our wildest dreams. With a full house signed up well in advance, we had to cut off registration two weeks before the event.

In a room overflowing with positive energy and a will to take action, we featured a lineup of top-ranking speakers before opening up the floor to a mega-brainstorming session, resulting in over 100 inspiring tips for women’s leadership.

From this overwhelmingly positive result we knew that the demand for an even bigger event was there. Then, the British Chamber of Commerce in Japan and the Australian and New Zealand Chamber of Commerce in Japan each elected their first female president, United States Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy arrived in Tokyo to take up her post, and Jay Ponazecki was voted in as ACCJ president.

This seems to indicate that the planets and stars are aligned, and 2014 is the year in which there are enough women to push us over the tipping point and create an explosion of activity, to produce a real change for women in Japan.

We are already well on the way to organizing an even bigger and better Women in Business Summit. The theme of this year’s event is “Womenomics: Engine for Economic Growth.”

Now is definitely the moment to get that engine going for women in Japan. Make no mistake; Japan needs that.

Certainly, there is a general sense in the air that “Japan is back,” given the encouraging economic news and the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games coming in 2020. But how can Japan become globally competitive when only 50 percent of the population is meaningfully engaged in the workforce, and the country is running the race on one leg? Growth can only really happen if everyone is included.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has stated that women in the labor force stand to bring Japan 16 percent economic growth.

This year’s summit has been conceived as an umbrella event to bring in as many women’s organizations as possible to meet, talk to each other, and eventually empower our many voices to speak as one.

Further, we are offering free publicity to all women’s groups, including display of their respective logos, a description of their organization, and their commitments.

This year, we are aiming to have men account for 30 percent of the summit attendants. They are the champions of change for us and, without them, nothing will happen.

So, by saying, “talk in one voice,” we do not mean just to talk about the voice of women, but about the voice of all men and women. We are talking about the workforce of Japan and we need the government, business, as well as public and private education to leverage all the talented people in the country.

Places for the summit will go fast, so please bookmark May 27 now for the 2014 USJC/ACCJ Women in Business Summit.


DividerElizabeth Handover is co-chair of the ACCJ Women in Business Committee and president of Intrapersona K.K., Lumina Learning
Asia Partner.