The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan


It is no secret that Japan has a long way to go in achieving workplace gender equality. Although 51 percent of the population is female, the number of working women is unnervingly low for an economy that is the world’s third largest. With many women leaving the workforce after marriage and a stunning 70 percent leaving after their first child, few return to their companies—let alone make it to upper management. Women are under-represented at every level in the majority of industries in Japan.

What’s holding them back? Women face a very unlevel playing field, with barriers to advancement, gaps in salary, and a general lack of opportunities offered to them. The challenge for Japan is to adopt inclusive strategies in hiring and retention. According to Bloomberg, of the 1,858 firms listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange, only 196 have female directors and just 1.5% of board members are women. This lies in stark contrast to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s goal of a society where “all women can shine.”

This has garnered the attention of Abe, who made the participation of women in the workforce part of his economic plan with a target of seven percent of leadership positions to be held by women by 2020 (revised from an original target of 30 percent). An aging population coupled with a declining birthrate has been tough on the economy. Improving the retention rate of women in the workforce will rejuvenate the economy and relieve the strain. The math supports this upset of Japan’s traditional gender politics. An estimate by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) from 2012 states that enhancing gender parity would increase Japan’s GDP by around 20 percent over 20 years.

Small steps can lead to big changes.

—Mary Anne Jorgensen, WIB Kansai Chair

Hosted by the ACCJ Women in Business Committee, the Women in Business Summit is an annual event first held in Tokyo in 2013 and in Chubu in 2014. Last year, more than 200 people convened for the inaugural Kansai summit titled Driving Business through Diversity. Attendees included corporate leaders and government officials—including the Union of Kansai Governments—as well as educators, non-profits, entrepreneurs, and individual employees.

Building on the success of last year’s event, which shared best practices and practical strategies to strengthen diversity in the workplace, this year’s Kansai WIB Summit will highlight how to develop an organizational culture that supports diversity and inclusion, and reduces the challenges that women face. Topics covered will include how leaders successfully drive change, how individual contributors can influence a culture shift, and why an inclusive culture is critical to better business results.

The organizing committee hopes to see a balanced number of men and women from all levels of the organization attending, as the task of creating an inclusive organizational culture belongs to us all. The buzz at last year’s gathering was infectious, and organizers are gearing up to make this year’s summit another event that will influence change in the year ahead.

This year the Tokyo, Chubu, and Kansai chapters of the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan are coordinating their Summits to deliver a consistent message and contribute to a broader discussion on what is required to cement the future of gender equality in Japan. Be part of the change and join us to kick off the summit series in Kansai on June 29.


JUNE 29 – Kansai WIB Summit, The Ritz Carlton, Osaka

SEPT 13 – Chubu WIB Summit, The Westin Nagoya Castle

OCT 27 – Tokyo WIB Summit, ANA InterContinental Tokyo

Kina Jackson is a freelance translator and business consultant at KJ Consulting. She is also a member of the ACCJ Kansai Women in Business Committee.