Only a tiny fraction of female workers have been able to snag top roles at public, private and nonprofit organizations in Japan, according to data from Teikoku Databank Ltd. released earlier this week.

The percentage of company presidents who are women was just 7.8 percent at the end of April, even though the prevalence of female chiefs is on an upward trend over the long term, having risen from 5.5 percent in 1998, the credit research agency’s most recent report showed.

The report is indicative of the recent trends in women’s employment in Japan, a mixed bag of positive developments and harsh realities indicating that there is still a long way to go until the country catches up with other developed nations.

The government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has promoted gender diversity in the workforce as a national growth strategy, setting the goal of raising women’s share of leadership roles in the country to 30 percent by 2020.

As of March, however, at mid- to large-size Japanese companies only 5 percent of senior roles — chief executive officers, managing directors, chairs and other senior decision-makers — were held by women, compared to 23 percent across the greater Asia-Pacific region, according to Grant Thornton International, an organization that conducts an annual survey titled “Women in Business”.

The Teikoku report also showed that the size of the organization is a useful predictor of how likely it is for women to advance to a top role and women tend to have larger representation at the head of smaller businesses. As of 2018, 10.8 percent of companies with sales of under ¥50 million were headed by women, compared to only 1.3 percent at companies with sales of over ¥10 billion.

Kathy Matsui, vice chair of Goldman Sachs Japan, hypothesized that more women may be skipping corporate business altogether due to limited advancement opportunities, instead opting to start companies themselves.

“I think women, in some cases, are more open than men to take the risk of leaving a corporate job,” she said. “If women are in a working environment where they are not really valued, then many may choose to do the work themselves.”

Matsui, who coined the term “womenomics”— a strategy to reinvigorate Japan’s economy through better roles for women in the workplace — acknowledged that more work has to be done in order to encourage companies to promote women into leadership roles and to address the imbalance of women who are often hired as irregular workers for lower pay.