APEC meet stresses importance of women in companies, economies

by Kazuaki Nagata

The participation of women in economic activities should be improved because it can help companies diversify and enhance corporate performance, female leaders from several countries said Monday in Tokyo during the 15th APEC Women Leaders Networking meeting.

On the second day of the three-day APEC WLN, female leaders from the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum of 21 economies exchanged views on women’s roles in the economy and shared their work experiences in panel discussions.

In one of the sessions, “Strategy for Women’s Initiative in Economy (or Business),” panelists stressed the importance of more female involvement in corporate boardrooms and improvements in balancing work and life.

“Promoting diversity in management gives many good things to companies,” said Kimie Iwata, Shiseido Co. executive vice president.

Noting that companies sell products in markets with a variety of consumers, she said “the diversity of the market should be reflected in the diversity of the people who work for the company. That’s the best way to understand the market.”

By adding female employees, companies would better understand female consumers, Iwata said.

Hon Pansy Wong, New Zealand’s minister of women’s affairs, said that while her country has a relatively high percentage of female lawmakers and has had two female prime ministers, there are still some glass ceilings to break, one of which is the lack of female leaders in public companies.

Wong cited a study of 17,000 companies that indicated businesses with at least one woman on the board were 20 percent less likely to go bankrupt.

“Think about that — the financial crisis could have been avoided if there were more women on those companies,” she said.

Yokohama Mayor Fumiko Hayashi stressed that a good work-life balance is necessary for women to continue working, while acknowledging that she spent too much time at work in the past.

Hayashi, who was Tokyo Nissan Auto Sales Co. President and also CEO of Daiei Inc., said she used to start work at 7 a.m. and return home around midnight while overcoming a male-dominated work environment.

Her husband, who is retired, helps her manage the busy days, she said.

“He cooks breakfast every day for me,” Hayashi said with a smile.

Working among men “helped me to become tough,” she said, adding that she realized that men and women have different strengths and weakness, so playing off one another can make for a better workplace.

Assisting women’s work-life balance is an important challenge for Japan, as many women still tend to stop working after getting married and having children, Hayashi said, adding that supporting child-rearing is Yokohama’s top priority.