Female execs take up challenge

by Hiroko Nakata

In a country where business executive ranks still find few women, some 360 female corporate presidents gathered Tuesday night in Tokyo, vowing to become the driving force lifting the country out of its worst downturn in decades.

The female entrepreneurs, from Hokkaido to Okinawa, joined the J300 event in the Omotesando Hills shopping complex in Shibuya Ward. The organizer, Colabolabo Co., operates the Joseishacho.com Web site, which aims to help create a network of female entrepreneurs.

“We have planned this event because I believe female presidents are the ones who can kick us out the economic slump,” Colabolabo President Kyoko Yokota said at the opening of the event. “I believe in their strength in the recession.”

The number of participants alone has meaning in a country where female presidents are a relative rarity compared with other industrialized nations. Over the past decade, their tally has hardly changed.

As of 2007, there were 160,000 Japanese women in managerial positions, representing just 9.2 percent of all managers in the country. This is far below the more than 30 percent in many European countries and the United States, according to surveys by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications.

“I want many of you to become business managers who can make a breakthrough in society,” said Heizo Takenaka, former internal affairs minister and a professor at Keio University who acted as moderator of a panel discussion at the event.

In a keynote speech, Fumiko Hayashi, president of Tokyo Nissan Auto Sales Co. and the former chairwoman of Daiei Inc., said women are better at grasping the needs of customers, which is a vital talent in business.

“Women always try to understand one’s position and act accordingly,” said Hayashi, who has built a 45-year career mostly in sales in the automobile industry. “They tend to have kind hearts and listen to other people.

“If this stance is widely adopted at Japanese companies, their businesses can be vastly improved,” she continued. “I hope that your efforts will revive the Japanese economy.”

In the panel discussion, the entrepreneurs discussed the troubles they face in doing business in Japan.

“The country should create environments that help start new corporate activities,” said Kikuko Yano, president of Cafeglobe.com, an Internet service provider for female workers. The government should offer more information on how to start businesses, she added.

“The seeds of business opportunities are everywhere.”

Yano also said that as a working mother, it is hard to get information about child care.

Fujiyo Ishiguro, president of Internet consulting firm Netyear Group Corp., said female presidents and entrepreneurs should act as the spearhead in expanding the role of women in the business scene.

“The field in which women can go into business is not wide enough yet,” said Ishiguro. “I want women to think more about what they should do for society.”