It seems that Japan’s conservative male-driven culture is slowly being forced to adapt to global change – most will say for the better – with more and more women being eyed for leadership roles in many industries and companies. While positions in civil service has been one of the few to open up executive roles to women, the banking and financial industry has already followed suit. Just last April, Japan’s second largest financial institution, Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corp. has promoted its first female executive in years.
49-year old Teiko Kudo was recently named director for the bank. However, she can still recall the time when despite of being lined up for career-track positions in the company in light of the 1986 Equal Employment Opportunity Law, she was still asked to serve tea in the office. Now things have changed and Kudo attends meetings with 88 other men who handle the same level as hers in the company. This story is not unique to Sumitomo. The rate of women in executive position in Japan’s finance industry is the lowest at 0.3 percent among the average of 3.3 percent in private companies. Daiwa Institute of Research Ltd. researcher Mariko Kawaguchi notes, “Banks have been the most-stubborn and conservative industry.” However, she credits its hesitation to change as better than nothing. Japanese Prime Minsiter Shinzo Abe has been urging for more women in executive positions to encourage equal opportunity and address the shrinking workforce of the country. Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group promoted 55-year old Yuko Kawamoto to be in its board of members last June, making the institution the first to follow Abe’s recommendations. Mizuho Financial Group, on the other hand, has also recommended 60-year old Hiroko Ota to be the firm’s external director and chairman of the board of directors. Shareholders are yet to approve her appointment this June.
With the current situation of Japan’s workforce, Nobuyuki Hirano, chairman of the Japanese Bankers’ Association welcomed women more women in high-ranking positions. “Considering the workforce in the future, increasing women’s participation is an important measure in Japan,” he said.
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