In Japan, women are its secret weapon

HRM 26 Nov 2012

Women could potentially save Japan’s failing economy if more of them had jobs, according to Christine Lagarde, head of the International Monetary Fund.

A report by Goldman Sachs estimated that Japan’s GDP could go up by 15% if female participation in Japan went up to match the men. Currently, only 60% of women are in the workforce, compared to 80% of men.

According to the report, seven out of 10 women stop working after their first child, and only 65% of women with a college-level education work.

"Unless more women work and get their own incomes, they cannot start a family," Masahiro Yamada, professor of family sociology at Tokyo's Chuo University, told AFP. "Without women joining the workforce, the government's tax revenue won't pick up because the population will continue to shrink.”

A lack of childcare makes returning to work difficult for many women as nursery places are at a premium and only available at certain hours during the day.

For some women, the problem is the incongruence of family life and Japan's famously long work hours.

"The gender issue is really ignored in Japan," Kaori Sasaki, president and CEO of consulting firm ewoman, was quoted as saying.

"After World War II… a certain group of men occupied top positions in the fields of economy, media and politics," she said. "These boys' network shared the same values and made decisions unopposed."

As a result, Japan has been unable to move forward to meet the challenges in a fast-moving world.

Official government data showed that women consist of only 1.2% of executives at 3,600 listed companies.

"This is a management and growth strategy," she said adding scandal-hit companies –  including Olympus, which hid US$1.7 billion of losses and Tokyo Electric Power, the operator of the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant – would have been better at dealing with their disasters if they had a more diverse senior management.

"When you try to manage crisis, create products or design services, diversity really counts," she said.


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