Changing Corporate Culture Key to Closing Japan’s Gender Gap

  • world economic forumJapan has one of the lowest female labour participation rates among OECD countries
  • The Closing the Gender Gap in Japan report identifies priority actions for promoting gender equality in Japan
  • Integrating women into the economy is an efficient use of a nation’s human capital endowment and important for economic growth

Tokyo, Japan, 3 June 2014  Gender parity is imperative to Japan’s competitiveness and addressing long-term economic challenges brought on by an ageing workforce, low fertility and an acute talent shortage, according to the Closing the Gender Gap in Japan report published today by the World Economic Forum, in collaboration with McKinsey & Company.

According to the report, the rate of female participation in Japan’s labour force is only 63%, compared to 85% for men. It is one of the lowest female labour participation rates among OECD countries and 79th globally. Among the employed, 35% of women are in part-time employment, compared to 10% of men.

At the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2014 in Davos, Switzerland, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe identified Japan’s female workforce as the country’s most underused resource and stated his intention for 30% of all senior leadership posts to be occupied by women in 2020.

“This is an ambitious target, but it is also attainable one, provided it is backed by the correct mix of interventions, exchange between companies to share their experiences and strong support across all stakeholder groups to create a level playing field,” said Saadia Zahidi, Senior Director, Head of Gender Parity Initiatives, at the World Economic Forum.

Despite some improvements in recent years in terms of the economic participation of women in the workforce, Japan continues to fall behind relative to other countries, ranking 104th out of 136 countries on the Forum’s 2013 Global Gender Gap Index. To close the gap and better leverage the female talent base, the report points to five areas where Japanese companies can improve their gender parity strategies. They include:

  • Visible leadership and commitment to gender parity from chief executive officers and other top leaders
  • Measurement and target setting to track gender parity goals
  • Awareness and capacity building, including training for male and female managers
  • Incentives and accountability for all managers on gender parity goals
  • Improvements to the work environment and work-life balance

Research shows that 80% of Japanese companies have adopted elements around parental leave and other work-life balance policies, but only 20% of companies have established programmes around talent development, which is essential for women’s progression.

“This report highlights the specific need for Japanese companies to focus on talent development as they look to advance women in their organizations,” said Georges Desvaux, Managing Director of the Tokyo office of McKinsey & Company.

The report shows that gender diversity is increasingly being recognized as a necessity for reputation and serves as an impetus for change in some Japanese companies, while others have made gender diversity a strategic priority to leverage the gains from diversity-fuelled innovation and improve insights into consumer behaviour.

Findings from Closing the Gender Gap in Japan are drawn from surveys of companies conducted jointly with the Keizai Doyukai and J-Win, as well as from the World Economic Forum’s Japan Gender Parity Task Force, which serves as a platform for private-private and public-private dialogue and analysis to support the efforts of multiple stakeholders on closing the gender gap.

The World Economic Forum is an international institution committed to improving the state of the world through public-private cooperation in the spirit of global citizenship. It engages with business, political, academic and other leaders of society to shape global, regional and industry agendas.

Incorporated as a not-for-profit foundation in 1971 and headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, the Forum is independent, impartial and not tied to any interests. It cooperates closely with all leading international organizations ( ).