Not one Japanese company applied for a subsidy program aimed at promoting more women to senior jobs, an official said Monday, an embarrassing blow for Tokyo’s push to boost the economy by better utilizing female workers.

Hundreds of firms had been expected to apply for cash rewards in exchange for reaching targets to place more women in high-ranking jobs and train female workers for senior positions.

Under the plan launched last year, successful firms would each receive up to ¥300,000 in compensation.

But a ¥120 million budget earmarked for 500 expected applicants went unused, said a spokeswoman for the health ministry, which administered the program. The spokeswoman blamed the strict conditions for qualifying for the subsidy, admitting it was “not a good program.” A less stringent offer would begin from October with the payout doubled in some cases, she said.

The misstep comes as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe vowed to push initiatives for women’s empowerment at a United Nations meeting in New York on Sunday.

Last month, Japan enacted a law forcing larger firms to disclose their targets for hiring female employees and promoting them to senior positions.

Abe has repeatedly said women were key to his “Abenomics” policy to kick-start the world’s No. 3 economy, and has pushed for them to fill more senior roles in politics and business.

Japan has one of the lowest rates of female workforce participation in the developed world, and most economists agree it badly needs to increase the number of working women as the population rapidly ages.

A lack of child care facilities, poor career support and deeply entrenched sexism are blamed for keeping women at home.

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