Ethical Performance
inside intelligence for responsible business


Too few women board directors in Japan

February 2015

Among the world’s 20 leading economies, Japan is worst at getting women on company boards.

Women hold only 3 % of seats on the boards of directors at Japan’s largest companies, the lowest proportion among 20 major economies, according to the “2014 Catalyst Census: Women Board Directors.”

Catalyst Inc, is a New York-based organization that advocates greater female representation in the workplace. Catalyst has offices in the United States, Canada, Europe, India, Australia, and Japan.

Norway was the most female-friendly, with 36% of seats held by women, followed by Finland and France with about 30% each, according to the study.

The UK had 23% while the USA had 19%, Portugal, and Ireland each had 10% or less. In addition to Japan, other Asian countries in the study were Australia (19%), India (10%), and Hong Kong (10%).

Japan’s poor ranking comes despite decades of urging by successive governments to improve opportunities for women.

In April 1986, Japan’s Equal Employment Opportunity Law took effect, prohibiting discrimination against women in vocational training, fringe benefits, retirement and dismissal.

It also urges employers to ‘endeavour’ to treat women equally with men with regard to recruitment, job assignment and promotion.

While opportunities for women have improved at lower and middle management levels, the door to the top echelons of Japanese companies has remained firmly closed for women.

In contrast, foreign companies in Japan such as IBM and Coca Cola have long provided the same opportunities for women as for men. Japanese companies that have come under Western management have also provided top management opportunities to women, e.g. Nissan under the management of Carlos Ghosn.

Japan’s working-age population is divided evenly between men and women, but nearly 38m men are in the workforce, compared with fewer than 28m women, government data from 2012 show.

In June 2014, the Japanese government updated its economic growth strategy to include policies promoting a greater role for women in the labour force.

Under the new plan, the government aims to raise the employment rate for women in the 25–44 age bracket from the 2012 level of 68% to 73% and increase the ratio of corporate leadership positions occupied by women to 30% by 2020.

The Catalyst research, done in partnership with Data Morphosis Group, analysed data about the companies listed on each country’s largest stock market index, based on October 2014 data. 

Catalyst | Global | gender balance


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