While China’s air defense zone issues was topmost on everyone’s mind during United States Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to Japan this week, he also had other agenda on his plate. Together with U.S. ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy and U.S. Ambassador for Global Women’s Issues Cathy Russell, he met with those who are helping advance women’s roles in the corporate world and commended Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on his policies to help make that a cornerstone of the Japanese economy.
The U.S. delegation visited the headquarters of DeNA Co., a mobile portal company that was founded by a woman, Tomoko Namba, who is now the director of the company. They are also known for fostering a working environment that encourages women to come back to work after giving birth, which is one of the major problems that Japan is facing when it comes to the female workforce. Biden had a round-table discussion with five female employees and asking how they can balance both family and career. There was a slight awkward moment though when he asked them, “Do your husbands like you working full-time?” and it is unclear if he actually got a response from the women.
But even trailblazers like DeNA still have a lot to overcome when it comes to gender equality at work. A McKinsey report shows that 49% of university graduates and 45% of entry-level jobs are women but only less than 1% of them take up CEO positions. Abe has made it one of his priorities to try to alleviate the difficulties of child care for working mothers as well as getting Japan Inc to revise its policies and hire more women full-time. But another problem that seems to be facing women is the fact that in the past five years, almost half a million workers had to leave their jobs in order to take care of a sick or elderly relative and that 80% of these workers are women. Namba herself had to resign as president of DeNA in 2011 to take care of her sick husband, and only came back earlier this year.
Abe knows that one of the solutions to the shrinking workforce due to the graying of the population is to have more women in leadership positions. Kennedy commends the administration’s “Womenics”, which is a plan to incorporate women in the crafting of economic policies. Abe’s target is to increase by 30% the number of women leaders by 2020, even asking that “all listed companies have at least one female board member.” As of 2011, only 1.2% of the 3,608 listed companies have at least one woman on their board. Trying to set an example, Abe recently appointed Makiko Yamada as the first female aide to a prime minister, at almost the same time that Kennedy officially took up her post as the first female ambassador to Japan.
[ via Wall Street Journal ]