In a speech before the UN General Assembly in September 2013, Prime Minister Abe proclaimed that he wanted to create “a society in which women shine.” Along with announcing a $3 billion official development assistance package, Abe challenged Japanese businesses to place women in 30% of their management positions by 2020.

There is still a long way to go to reach this goal. Only 15% of management positions in Japan are held by women, well under the average found across Asia, according to a survey of employers by recruiting experts Hays in Japan. The survey of 2,600 employers, conducted as part of the 2014 Hays Salary Guide, found that across Asia, 28% of management roles are held by women. Leading the region for the development of female talent is China, where 36% of management roles are held by women.

China was followed by Hong Kong (33%), Malaysia (29%), and Singapore (27%). “Japan is falling behind in the diversity stakes,” says Jonathan Sampson, Regional Director of Hays in Japan. “This is happening despite Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s commitment to tapping into Japan’s ‘most underutilised resource: Japanese women’.” These findings are supported by a report released by Grant Thornton in March 2013, which said that mainland Chinese women topped the world in terms of holding senior business management roles, beating Japan in 44th place. A separate survey by MasterCard, also released in March of last year, further supported the finding that mainland women were well represented in business, with 40.9 female business owners to every 100 male ones—a figure twice as high as it is in Japan (21.2 female to every 100 male).

Furthermore, according to McKinsey’s report “Women Matter: An Asian Perspective” released in June 2012, Japan has one of the lowest levels of female representation on boards and executive committees in Asia.

“Diversity is increasingly on CEOs’ agendas as it is seen as a way of improving attraction and retention of staff, better reflecting a company’s customer base and boosting productivity, innovation and financial results,” says Jonathan. “Despite the compelling business case for diversity in the workforce, the number of women participating in management is still relatively low compared to men. With the acute talent mismatch in Japan—one that is worsening every day—it is essential that we look to this highly capable talent pool to help drive the country forward.

“We will continue to monitor this trend in future years and it will be interesting to watch how quickly organizations come around to developing female staff to expand their pool of talent.”

The following is Hays’ advice to employers who are looking to advance women into management roles:

  • Measure and report on the proportion of women in your workforce, including at senior levels.
  • Enable both women and men to balance their work and home lives by embracing flexible working schedules at all levels and train managers to manage based on results, not hours at a desk.
  • Encourage an attitudinal change towards working flexibly, remotely or part-time: these different ways of working do not indicate a lack of commitment.
  • Create supportive networks and encourage mentoring opportunities for female managers.
  • Prepare future female leaders by providing management training and qualifications early in their careers.
  • Act on the evidence to ensure that women throughout your organization are given the same opportunities as men to progress.
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