Japan's use of the stock market to change companies' attitudes toward women is showing signs it's working. As an investment strategy, it has been less of a success.

Forty businesses were chosen as Nadeshiko stocks in March, the third annual selection of companies that encourage women's advancement. The list is the brainchild of the trade ministry and the Tokyo bourse, which named it after a pink flower they say symbolizes female strength. It's also the nickname of Japan's World Cup-winning women's soccer team.

While more companies are taking steps to make the cut, the chosen ones in the first year only just beat the benchmark Topix index, while the second group have lagged behind.