Japan’s gender gap has gotten even worse, according to this year’s report by the World Economic Forum released last month. Japan fell to 105th out of 136 countries — down from 101st last year — to the lowest rank ever. The government’s goal of increasing the percentage of women in leadership positions in every sector of society to 30 percent by 2020 seems farther away than ever.
The drop this year was due in part to a decrease in the number of female lawmakers. Japan’s Diet consists of just over 10 percent women, one of the lowest rankings in the world, putting it at No. 118 in the world. Japan’s ranking has been consistently, embarrassingly low since the World Economic Forum began its annual survey in 2006. Japanese women continue to do well in many categories, such as literacy and secondary education. Japan’s ranking in wage equality also improved, with Japan moving up to 87th.
However, these positive results only make it all the more clear that a reasonably fair start in society and relatively equal hiring at a young age does not translate into full equality. Japanese women are still not getting the opportunities they deserve at higher levels.
Several research organizations recently found that companies with more women on their boards earn a better return on investments than companies with few women. Catalyst, an nonprofit organization aiming to create more inclusive workplaces, found that companies with a higher percentage of women earned up to 26 percent more. A study by McKinsey and Co. found that international companies with more women board members outperformed the rest by up to 56 percent.
Those studies should remind the government and business leaders that hiring women does much more than satisfy some vague sense of equality. It bumps up the bottom line. Women help to provide essential input into what decisions are made and help establish better processes for how those decisions are made.
The Catalyst and McKinsey studies also reveal that companies that are already more open-minded and forward thinking may be the ones that hire more women.
That opens up Japanese companies and the Japanese government to an even more serious criticism — that they are bound by outdated, inflexible attitudes that are not progressive enough to even consider hiring more women.
It is not just a matter of promoting women; that’s basic. It is also a matter of transforming deeply held beliefs. Women should be welcomed into the workplace. Until that happens, Japan’s economic woes are not likely to lessen.