Japanese women need more visible female role models in the workplace to reach Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s “womenomics” target of having 30 percent of leadership positions in Japan held by women by 2020, a panel of female business leaders said recently in New York.

“There is not a critical mass of women that are in those positions,” Daiwa Capital Markets America Holdings, Inc. CEO Keiko Tashiro said at a Japan Society event, referring to the lack of female business leaders in Japan.

Despite Abe’s lofty goal, only 8 percent of senior roles in businesses in Japan are held by women today, as opposed to the 22 percent global average, according to the Grant Thorton International Business Report 2015.

The same study shows that “a staggering” 66 percent of Japanese businesses have no women on their senior leadership teams, well above the 32 percent global average.

“Unfortunately we do not have good role models in higher management positions. Because of this, many women are unable to see their future career,” said Yukako Uchinaga, chairwoman of Japan Women’s Innovative Network.

Tashiro, who began her career with Daiwa in 1986 during the “bubble economy” when Japanese companies “were so busy that they even needed women to work,” said some women may need a confidence boost in the workplace today.

Tashiro pointed to how many women in Japan were not “trained or mentally prepared” to have the confidence to pursue positions of power in a company.

“I think that’s the difference between men and women. Men are always forced to think about what they want to do, women sometimes are not,” she said.

As well as increasing the visibility of female role models, Uchinaga suggested the gap can be tightened by addressing hurdles, such as often rigid working hours.

Instead of focusing on the hours worked physically in the office, the former Berlitz Corp. CEO suggested companies should allow flexible working schedules, as well as telecommuting.

“Evaluate by output, not by hours. That’s mandatory to change the working style,” Uchinaga said. “This kind of flexible working environment is very important for Japan.”

In the meantime, Uchinaga said she was encouraged by the legislation passed in August in the Diet that required large companies as well as the central and local governments to set numerical goals by the end of March for the employment and promotion of women.

“The government asks each organization to make a declaration of their own objectives and targets,” she said. “I think that’s very helpful.”

For women currently in those senior positions who may feel uncomfortable standing out, American business leaders, such as Deloitte Consulting LLP principal Deepa Purushothaman, said they should embrace their role as a trailblazer and inspire younger women around them.

“You have to shrug the chip off your shoulder and realize it’s an opportunity and turn it into a positive,” Purushothaman said about her experience as being one of the only women in a management position at an American company.

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