Big firms add women to boards, mostly in external role


Some of the nation’s major listed companies are starting to promote women to their boards of directors to answer Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s call for more female executives, a recent Jiji Press survey found.

Women account for slightly less than 2 percent of all board members at Japan’s top companies, compared with 11.1 percent at foreign companies as logged by a U.S. survey.

Jiji Press surveyed board member and auditor counts at 500 companies listed on the first section of the Tokyo Stock Exchange that had submitted their latest financial statements as of May or June.

Some 20 percent of the 500 firms have put women on their boards. Women now account for 1.8 percent of all executives, up from 1.5 percent the previous year.

But the proportion of female board members in advanced countries stands at an average of 11.1 percent, according to a 2012 survey by U.S. research firm GMI Ratings.

At the 500 companies, however, 80 percent of female execs were either outside board members or auditors, while most of the men were selected to join the boards internally.

Companies are not required to disclose the gender of board members in their financial statements, but several, including Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp. and Mitsui & Co., began voluntarily doing so this year.

The women elevated to board status this year include Waseda University Graduate School professor Yuko Kawamoto, who was selected by Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group Inc., making her the first female on the board of a megabank.

Among outside board members, electronics giant Panasonic Corp. chose Hiroko Ota, professor at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies, and precision-equipment maker Olympus Corp. selected Toyo Gakuen University professor Keiko Unotoro.

Some companies have appointed several female board members, including convenience store operator Lawson Inc. and cosmetics maker Shiseido Co., which each have three.