Women Holding Senior Management Positions: Japan and Russia Highlight the Huge Gap

Women Holding Senior Management Positions: Japan and Russia Highlight the Huge Gap

Pierre Leblanc and James Jomo

Modern Tokyo Times


Another important international business survey paints a rather damning view of the role of women within senior management positions in Japan. The survey carried out by Grant Thornton and which involved 6,000 international businesses, confirms other surveys whereby Japan is lagging well behind other leading economic nations and emerging markets. This fact is difficult to understand given the reality that Japan is a very modern nation whereby educational standards rank very highly internationally.

The Russian Federation came out on top in the survey of 40 economies with 46% of women being represented in senior management positions. Italy came out on top within the European Union at 36% and surprisingly Germany was very low along with Denmark. The figure in Germany was 13% and in Denmark it was 15%. Therefore, it would have been interesting if the survey delved more deeply into the cultural factors behind these findings. After all, you have such a huge discrepancy despite the closeness of geography and common shared factors like democracy, secularism, high educational standards, and other important areas.

Other nations which figured highly include Botswana, the Philippines, and Thailand, who all obtained 39%. In Latin America the standard average was 22% and in the United Arab Emirates the figure is now 15% and this highlights the growing maturity of this nation. In the past, the United Arab Emirates had a very low base. However, recent political and social changes in this country are opening up the labor market to women.

In the article by Jennifer M. Freedman which was published on the Bloomberg website, the author comments that “U.S. companies are lagging behind gains in Europe, where female board membership is growing to meet regulatory mandates and corporate governance codes. Representation of women on boards of Standard & Poor’s 500 (SPX) companies declined to 16 percent in 2011 from 16.6 percent in 2010, according to the Bloomberg Rankings annual analysis last year, which gathered data from public company information.”

The findings paint a bleak reality of the business world in Japan because this nation came last at 5%. This figure is alarming given the ultra-modernity of all major cities, high educational standards, and other positive areas. However, just like Germany, it would appear that behind the veneer of modernity is a culture which still prides itself on conservative values. This statement is painting a rather mild view because others would state that discrimination and the corporate cultures of Japan and Germany are to blame for such low figures.

Whatever the truth is, it is clear that the survey needs to focus on social factors, corporate culture, cultural norms, and other important areas. Also, are all companies open to female senior management positions or just a minority of companies? Of course the findings will be complex because it could be based on sexual discrimination, women don’t desire openly to work in senior management positions, educational emphasis on gender stratification, corporate culture, and many other factors.

However, with only 5% of Japanese females being represented within senior management then clearly this is hindering certain areas of the economy. After all, the demographic issue in Japan is a real area of concern because of the declining birth rate. This indicates a lot of “educational and talented wastage” is being lost at a time when people are needed to fill jobs throughout the economy.

If corporate Japan doesn’t change its collective thinking then another female generation will be lost when it comes to senior management positions. Of course, the reasons will be multiple and extremely complex but the best starting point is the corporate culture of this nation and then to focus on other areas. After all, can Japan afford to “throw away” so much hidden talent given the economic and demographic reality of modern Japan in 2012?

Lee Jay Walker gave support to both main writers 




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