Business

Lacking in-house role models, Japanese women in management have to look elsewhere for advice

Kyodo

In Japan’s largely male-dominated industries, women who have been promoted to managerial posts are increasingly seeking job advice from external female mentors because of a lack of in-house role models.

Momoko Kubota, a 33-year-old section chief in a sales department at SoftBank Corp., is one. She sought consultations about how to train male subordinates using the company’s system that was introduced last November on a trial basis.

She is the only woman in the 19-member department and while her male boss said that she should scold subordinates when necessary, she said she felt uncomfortable being harsh with them.

The mentor that Kubota consulted, Yumi Kajimoto of consulting firm Manabicia Co., worked at a utility company for around 30 years, including in sales.

Kubota said she felt empowered by Kajimoto, who told her: “You should remain as you are. The way you put emphasis on communication is your strength.”

Consulting with a mentor outside the firm proved to have other benefits as well.

“If I consult somebody within my company I would be worried that what I talked about might be leaked. But with (Kajimoto) I could feel comfortable since she is a person from outside,” Kubota said.

“We will offer programs to train female executive candidates and also share know-how regarding promotion of women to higher posts,” said Michiko Tadamatsu, a senior manager at Deloitte Tohmatsu Consulting LLC who helped establish the Japan chapter of the 30 Percent Club, a British-founded group that works to boost female representation on company boards.

The outside mentor system that SoftBank has introduced is one way to help increase the number of female executives in corporate Japan, where the ratio was 7.6 percent among 100 major firms listed on the first section of the Tokyo Stock Exchange in 2018, the lowest level among advanced economies, according to Tadamatsu.

The club, headed by Shiseido Co. President Masahiko Uotani and which includes Daiwa Securities Group Inc. Chairman Takashi Hibino, Hitachi Ltd. President Toshiaki Higashihara and other top executives as members, aims to increase female representation on boards to 10 percent by 2020 and 30 percent by 2030.

But the club does not force these targets on member companies and is actually against the idea of quotas, which automatically allocate a given ratio of company board seats to women. “A woman with appropriate skills and experience should be given a leading job,” Tadamatsu said.

Shiseido’s Uotani said: “It goes without saying that having more female representation is good for business. It allows diversity in ideas and thinking, which leads to sustainable growth for companies.

“But it is also true that many women are startled when they are asked to assume senior posts, saying, ‘Why are you burdening me with more work?'” Uotani said. “Japanese companies are still very uniform, so we want to help bring about change.”

A SoftBank human resources official said the outside mentor system is working well for the company: “There are many women employees who say they have been helped by acquiring an objective perspective from professionals who are experts in listening.”

The 20 or so women working at Manabicia all have experience in senior company posts and have been trained in coaching. They are dispatched as advisers to companies by matching job descriptions and the personalities of individuals seeking consultations.

“The number of companies who are putting emphasis on mental care is increasing in tandem with the diversification of the way we work,” said Masako Ikehara, the 38-year-old head of Manabicia.

Futaba Furukawa, 43, section chief of a department at the Shinkumi Federation Bank, sought advice about being one of the youngest female employees at her branch in Fukuoka. She said she stopped wavering when her mentor told her that what she needs to do is to make up her mind to commit to a managerial job.

Shinkumi President Junichi Naito, 67, said that “male employees tend to be unconvincing when it comes to understanding the circumstances that women employees are in. Outside mentors are also good because they can share examples of other companies.”

A 41-year-old mother of two working at clothing and goods retailer Felissimo Corp. said she became more positive about her career prospects after seeing how an outside mentor, who was a working mother and executive at a manufacturer, enjoyed work.

Experts say sharing the experience of women in senior company posts is effective at a time when role models are still difficult to come by.

To encourage more female representation, Yoko Yajima, executive officer at Mitsubishi UFJ Research and Consulting, said “it is also important that companies prepare systems to ensure appropriate evaluation of employees even if they have restricted working styles due to child rearing or taking care of elderly family members.”

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