The following is the summary of a breakout session that was part of the 2016 Annual Conference.
The session began with the introduction of Ms. Kuniya, a former anchor of NHK’s Close-up Gendai, which covers a variety of world issues. Having worked in an environment with mostly male colleagues, Ms. Kuniya was familiar with the concept of “Womenomics.” She was aware of issues affecting Japan, such as the decline of economic growth, competitiveness and the household income. But when Ms. Kuniya participated in a women’s leadership conference in Tokyo, she was shocked to learn that many powerful women from around the world were able to express how passionate and enthusiastic they were about having women in managerial positions, which would result in promoting growth and competition in companies.
Ms. Kuniya revealed that in a 2016 World Economic Forum report on gender equality, out of 144 countries, Japan was ranked 116th while the United States was ranked 49th. Other statistics indicate that women account for only 11% of managerial positions in Japan, compared to 30-40% in the U.S. Although the Government of Japan has prioritized boosting gender equality, it has not made significant progress.
One of the panel members, Ms. Kamada from the Calbee corporation, explained how her company focuses on diversity and inclusion. She believes that those have been instrumental to the company’s success. Calbee provides a desirable working environment for their employees, and implemented measures that include flexible working hours. As a result, 30% of managerial positions in the company are now held by working mothers.
The discussion also examined the absence of women in the STEM field, particularly computer science. Jobs in data science and information technology grow the fastest, and are prominent fields that are very suitable for women who are naturally good at problem solving. However, a STEM field degree is unpopular among women who subconsciously have a negative image of engineering or science.
The Government of Japan legislated the promotion of work-life balance in hopes of encouraging women to remain in their jobs for the long-term. Despite the formal approach to tackle the problem, a study shows that many women leave their jobs after having their first child. Ms. Kamada revealed that in Japan, 60-70% of women who work refuse to be promoted to managerial positions.
At the session’s conclusion, Ms. Kuniya asked one last question on how to change the male management’s point of view about diversity and inclusion. Ms. Mackenzie responded that there are managers who are committed to change and believe that innovation and diversity can intersect. Managers in engineering fields are especially keen to remove bias from the decision-making process. They love the idea of the consistency algorithm, i.e. they don’t want rational decisions to be tainted by bias. Such initiatives benefit not only women, but all employees. These new ideas foster diversity and inclusion.
The panel concluded on an optimistic note, with hope in the future of both countries.