Japanese Companies Making No Progress in Women's Participation: Three Problems and Solutions from Practical Experience

Due to a decrease in the labor force brought about by the declining birthrate and aging of the population, companies are expected to find it increasingly difficult to acquire excellent human resources. Thus, making use of the female workforce is crucial, yet it is still difficult to create organizations where women can actively participate. At present, although the level of awareness has been raised, companies' systems and structures have not yet caught up with such awareness. This report discusses what companies need to do to promote utilization of women in the workforce.
[Fujitsu Insight 2017 Work Style Innovation Keynote Report]

Women Comprise Only 1.1% of Company Executives: No Progress in Women's Participation

Kahoko TsunezawaRepresentative Director,

In the year 2000, at the age of 26, I established Trenders, Inc., a marketing company with services targeting working women, something that is still rare in Japan. Trenders, Inc. was listed on TSE Mothers in 2012. After that, in 2014, I launched KIDSLINE Inc., which is a smartphone platform that makes it easy for parents to call babysitters. Why did I start these companies? It is because I strongly wanted to help spread "women's work style innovation."

What do you think are the causes of the delay in women's participation in the workforce? Despite Japanese women's relatively higher college attendance rate compared to the rest of the world, the percentage of female executives at companies is just 1.1%, the second lowest among developed countries. It is less than one-thirtieth that of Norway, which ranks No. 1. There is also the fact that 70% of women in Japan quit their jobs due to childbirth.

The low percentage of female executives means that fewer women have decision-making power, and since men cannot adequately understand female needs and the necessary advancement systems, these systems are often rejected.

From the viewpoint of the labor shortage caused by the declining birthrate and aging of the population, women must contribute to the society, and we need women's ideas and sensitivity to reflect the trends of the times. New services and value can be created by combining feminine sensibility, such as hospitality for customers and ideas, together with men's power. In that sense, it is important to increase the number of female managers; the ideal male-female ratio is 1:1.

Three Problems Blocking Women's Participation

Three factors hinder women's participation. First, it is difficult for women to develop career plans. I have been supporting women for over 15 years, but I have seen many capable women quit after returning to work from maternity leave because with limited time many are forced to do routine work and must give up on career development, falling into the so-called "mommy track."

Second, women have no role models in their organizations. Many men design long-term career plans, such as to become a company president or executive. If companies could become places where women too can pursue big dreams just like men, a good flow will be created in the society.

Third, women have no time. It is really tough to balance childcare with work. From my personal experience, I remember when I could not join meetings or finish work on schedule due to a lack of time.

Solving Problems by Changing Managers' Awareness, Making Long-term Career Plans, and Teleworking

So what should we do? In fact, all three of the aforementioned problems can be solved. What is important first is "pre-childbirth management." Managers must educate female workers before childbirth, rather than thinking about work-related matters and future career plans only after maternity leave. I always say to my employees, "Women can do their best work when they are single, so it is important to earn the trust of those around you and increase the amount of 'trust' you save up before you get married."

This is not a problem for women alone; it affects all workers, including those returning to work after nursing care leave. Educating workers to earn the trust of others while they are able to, is an important task for bosses and managers so that workers can become personnel whom others want to have come back to the office.

The other important thing is "reinstatement management." A very long maternity leave may not have positive effects on returning to work, though the situation varies from person to person. Therefore, after childbirth, it is important for those on maternity leave to maintain an appropriate distance with the company and other employees. Having regular communication with managers and the company's intranet accessible from home can be effective in preventing women from getting too far away from the company during their leave.

Engaging in telework to maintain an appropriate distance with the company will help smooth women's reinstatement by reducing anxiety. Our company uses group chat to communicate with those on maternity or childcare leave and asks them to help with research they can do at home if they wish.

To manage female leaders, it is important to have them participate in external training courses, female leader networks, and other programs to raise their self-awareness as female leaders. It is also important to give them opportunities to learn from external role models so that they can help broaden the entire company's viewpoint and avoid becoming inward-looking.

Reducing Women's Burdens by Outsourcing Housekeeping and Childcare

To further promote women's active advancement, companies should support them so that they can have more time to concentrate on work. Specifically, companies should provide outsourcing support to release women from the burdens of housekeeping duties and childcare.

You may think this is not something companies should concern themselves with; however, in reality, due to the shortage of nursery schools and nursery teachers as well as the problem of children on waiting lists for nursery schools--which is unlikely to be resolved--it is difficult for women to find time to work as much as they want to. For example, some companies cover half of the costs for babysitters for employees whose children are on the nursery school waitlists. An increasing number of women in childcare leave say they wish to return to work within about three months if their companies can cover part of their babysitting costs.

We offer "KIDSLINE," a platform to book babysitters 24/7 that can be accessed from smartphones. I started this service because I wanted to prepare an environment for outsourcing housekeeping work and childcare. If companies and organizations can support outsourcing of housekeeping and childcare more actively, they should be able to solve the problems that hinder women's active participation in the workforce.

Creating an Environment for Women to Play Active Roles Is Advantageous for Companies and Society

Given the working age population's declining trend, it will be a great advantage for companies in the future if they can secure excellent female workers and create a flow for promoting women to managerial positions today. To create an environment where women can play active roles, it is important not only to enhance recruiting efforts but also to make advanced preparations such as creating a system that helps women return to work more easily, developing robust career plans for women, and providing support for outsourcing housekeeping work and childcare to enable them to secure time to work.

The key is to consider which goals to set first. If companies can provide plans at major life milestones--such as pregnancy, childbirth, and reinstatement--they can naturally create an environment where women play active roles. To invigorate Japan, what is most important is to create a society where it is less stressful for women to raise children while actively participating in the workforce. I would like to promote the creation of such society together with you.

  • Kahoko TsunezawaRepresentative Director, KIDSLINE Inc.