Japan – Untapping the Power of Women

William Pesek, wrote an interesting opinion piece in the Sydney Morning Herald recently about Japan’s need to embrace its female workforce in order to drag its economy out of economic stagnation.

In the article he noted that Japan (2011) ranks 98th in a World Economic Forum report on the gap between men and women, trailing China, Tajikistan and Zimbabwe.

He goes on to note that in 2012, Japanese women occupy just one in 70 management jobs at Japanese companies and not a single Nikkei 225 company is run by a woman.

For an economy desperately needing to boost its economic output, it seems so blatantly counter-intuitive to simply ignore 50% of its highly-educated population this way.

But when you note that IBM, a foreign multinational operating in Japan, had its first female board member appointed in 1995, its obvious that Japanese women have a long way to go before they reach even the somewhat “average” performance of Australia when it comes to female representation at executive levels.

J-WIN, the Japanese Women’s Innovation Network, is working to help corporates and Japanese women understand the untapped potential they all have in their organisations. J-WIN, and about 40 Japanese women, came out to Sydney recently. Together with NSW Trade & Investment and Women In Global Business (WIGB) we pulled together a program for the delegation to hear from senior women in the public service, major corporates and women who ran their own businesses.

The reaction was truly astounding. These women could not believe how many choices women had in Australia. It broke my heart to hear how many of them, with brilliant minds and energy to burn, could only ever hope to reach lower management and then marry.

It was a very salient reminder, that even in one of the most sophisticated economies in the world, there is a long, long way to go before women are truly equals.

But it is still my strong hope that we will see a generation where it is in fact unremarkable for women to be leaders in any and all walks of life.

I hope we will see a generation where it is unthinkable to label a woman who expresses her opinions in the workplace as “overly emotional” or that a woman who seeks the advice and views of others before making a decision be labelled as “weak”.

Instead, I hope one day there will be a generation of women who have limitless employment choices, where they know they will be judged on their track record and capabilities, not their gender. And where they know and expect their voices, opinions and leadership characteristics will be not only be heard and considered but indeed admired and respected.

For it’s only when we reach this point that our communities, our workplaces and our countries will actually achieve their full potential.