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Major Japanese trading firms are moving into full gear to train female workers, aiming to encourage the active participation of women in the industry.

Those companies are expanding hiring of women and reinforcing executive training for mid-level female employees. They view diversifying human resources as essential for their sustainable growth.

On Friday, Itochu Corp. launched a committee that advises the board on ways to nurture female workers. The committee is headed by former vice health minister Atsuko Muraki, who now sits on the board as an outside director.

Itochu has led the industry in promoting hiring of women. Still, there are only a limited number of female executives. The company has “an inadequate system for promoting their active participation,” Executive Vice President Fumihiko Kobayashi said.

The committee will discuss support measures for female employees that reflect specific situations such as child care. Numerical targets for women’s active participation will not be on the agenda.

Women account for only around 10% of career-track positions at major traders.

Marubeni Corp. President and CEO Masumi Kakinoki in January said the company will boost the share of women in its hiring of new graduates for career-track positions to up to 50% within three years from 20% to 30% at present.

“A breakaway from a homogeneous group is required to cope with the changing environment,” Kakinoki said. His goal initially drew criticism for leading to reverse discrimination. Later, however, it gained understanding after the CEO set out the need for diverse human resources.

“We receive only a small number of applications from women at the moment. We hope that women will have interest in trading firms,” a Marubeni official in charge of personnel affairs said.

Targeting female candidates for company leaders, Mitsui & Co. has held every year since 2019 events featuring lectures on organizational management and dialogues with executives.

Mitsubishi Corp. set up in April a mentor system in which executive officers provide one-on-one guidance to executive candidates.

Trading firms have brushed aside arguments that they are no longer necessary, by diversifying into investment businesses including staffing services covering growth areas.

Muraki of Itochu said, “The company can get an extra boost for growth if women are appointed to responsible posts.”

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