Do You Evaluate Female Employees Fairly? - How Companies Should Promote Diversity to Encourage Women's Participation

What should companies do to promote women's active participation, which is a key factor of diversity? Yuko Kuniya, who served as anchor of NHK television program Close-up Gendai for more than 20 years, discussed this theme as she reflected on her experience and the interviews she made in the program.
[Fujitsu Forum 2017 Special Presentation Report]

Companies Where Women Play an Active Part Innovate More

Hiroko Kuniya
Television anchor

"During the 20 years after television program Close-up Gendai started, annual household income decreased by 1.2 million yen in Japan; as a result, the traditional gender-role system in which men worked to earn income and women did housekeeping and childcare is no longer the dominant pattern. In recent years, social changes have occurred more rapidly and become more complex. This has made diversity necessary to create innovations to respond to risks and changes, and the core to promoting diversity are efforts to promote women's participation.

"Close-up Gendai took up a variety of issues about employment. However, issues pertaining to men and young people were selected as themes much more often than those of women. I think this is because all the editors and many of the producers in charge were men for as long as 23 years since the program began. In reality, it was difficult for them to recognize themes and proposals from women's point of view. Looking back now, I think it was challenging to create a program from diverse perspectives given this structure (where men were dominant).

"I wanted to succeed and earn recognition as the anchor of Close-up Gendai by any means, so I said yes to whatever schedule the staff determined and worked early mornings, late nights, Saturdays, and Sundays. I just wanted to succeed and worked hard in the same way as men, so I did not realize women's feelings. Perhaps, the female staff members around me may have thought, 'I cannot work like that woman.'

"When I attended an international women's conference in 2010, it opened my eyes about diversity, where I heard things like, 'Companies where women play an active part innovate more' and 'Companies where women are active can realize pleasant working environments for both men and women, which invigorates all of society.' This was an illuminating moment for me."

"Ambiguous Evaluations," an Invisible Barrier to Women's Career Advancement

"Japan has become increasingly aware of diversity and has begun launching initiatives. However, when examining the annual Global Gender Gap Index presented by the World Economic Forum, Japan ranked 94th in 2010 and fell to 111th place in 2016. In 2003, then-prime minister Junichiro Koizumi proposed a goal of having 30% of leadership positions filled by women by 2020. However, according to a 2015 survey result reported by the Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare, the percentage of women in leadership positions is flat at 11.9%. Despite stepping on the accelerator and waving the diversity flag, Japan cannot keep pace with the world and lags far behind its set goal.

"Why does this situation continue? One reason is that rewarding work environments for women have not yet been created, which function as a barrier to women's career advancement and impede promotion to managerial positions.

"The result of a career survey led by Machiko Osawa, Professor at Japan Women's University, indicated that the higher the willingness to work upon graduation, the higher the women's turnover rate. Professor Osawa conjectures that the reason for this may be because the work opportunities provided to women are less rewarding than those offered to men. There are still strong ideas of separate gender roles in Japan, and women are often evaluated unfairly (whether consciously or not), which inhibits women's advancement and diminishes their motivation to work.

"What impedes fair evaluation? A Stanford University institute studying diversity investigates the invisible barriers that inhibit women's career advancement. One such barrier is 'ambiguous evaluations.' For example, while male bosses give their male subordinates practical advice, they just say something vague to female subordinates, such as 'You did well this year.' In response to this analysis, companies have begun efforts to eliminate ambiguous evaluations, such as having multiple supervisors evaluate subordinates. Companies are beginning to feel the need to review whether they have a mechanism for ensuring female employees feel the value of working and stay motivated."

Creating Inspiring Role Models of Leaders for Women

"Women themselves also have issues. When the National Women's Education Center (NWEC) conducted a questionnaire survey of full-time male and female employees newly hired in 2015, 94% of men answered that they aim for a managerial position, while only 58% of women answered the same. The reasons why women do not want to be promoted to managerial positions are because it is difficult to balance family and work, because they are not confident in their abilities, and because they do not want to have heavy responsibilities.

"Women's self-affirmation tends to be low and they are reluctant to aspire to managerial positions. This is because women are caught up in the pressure of having to behave like male leaders. However, if companies expect creativity and innovation by women and diverse groups of people, they must create an environment where each and every employee can continue to work with confidence while exerting their own individuality. Also, companies must dare to offer challenging jobs to female employees so as to encourage and develop them into the role models of female leaders that they aim to be."

Innovation Generated from True Diversity

"In 2014, Shiseido (a cosmetics company) implemented a reform measure for its 1,200 beauty consultants who returned to work under a short-time work system, demanding that they work even on weekends, holidays, and evenings. This measure, called 'Shiseido Shock,' attracted public attention and surprised the world and media. However, the company's real intention was to have them gain sales experience during the time periods when cosmetics sell best to raise their skills, aspiring them to feel fulfilled through work. An interview conducted three years after 'Shiseido Shock' found that one of the biggest changes for beauty staff members was that they became firmly motivated to continue with their work and developed a professional mindset. The General Manager of the Human Resources Department remarked, 'The next stage of reform is to raise male employees' awareness and diversify their work styles.'

"There are still many things that must be done to create organizations with diversity in which both women and men can work comfortably and advance their careers. I hope that everyone here works to develop diverse organizations and create more innovations in the modern era, which is becoming increasingly complex and changing rapidly."

  • Hiroko Kuniya Television anchor