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The government has announced it will create a database for women who are eligible to become executives of listed firms in order to increase the influence of women inside companies. The database is an attempt to expand women’s roles as part of a general push for economic growth. The database is intended to increase the number of female board members on listed Japanese companies.

As one step toward increasing participation of women in Japan’s economy, the database is a positive move. However, it fails to provide the larger framework that will help all women, not just the ones already at the top. The government can be commended for taking action for those female business leaders, but it should be criticized for assuming that helping already successful women will trickle down to benefit all women.

Increasing the number of female professors, business leaders, lawyers and government advisors in boardrooms will help to update business practices and diversify the decision-making process of top corporations. However, the logic seems to be that female executives will always make decisions in the best interests of women. This, however, is simply not true. If more women are put on more corporate boards, they will make decisions on the basis of many factors, just as male executives do.

The database is needed, since the percentage of female executives is just 1.2 percent of the total number of executives in Japan. The target of boosting that percentage to 30 percent by 2020 is an admirable one, but much more work needs to be done if years of ingrained sexism and discrimination are to be reversed.

The government’s attempt to improve conditions for women by starting at the top and working down needs to be supplemented by supporting all women at every position in the economic hierarchy.

Expanding the role of women in society and the economy requires improvements at all levels of the socioeconomic hierarchy. A database will not solve the problems of most female workers, over half of whom remain irregular employees receiving lower pay with fewer or no benefits. They need regular, long-term contracts, secure benefits and better conditions.

The pay gap between men and women remains deeply unfair. Without equal jobs at equal pay, the average female worker has little chance to improve their living conditions.

Without considering the broader picture of female workers throughout the economy, the government’s database plan will have only moderate impact at best, helping only those few women who have already succeeded. The government should try to help women advance in all levels of the economy by promoting equal opportunities and pay, ensuring that women who take leave to give birth have access to affordable child-care facilities when the time comes for them to return to work, and making sure that employers welcome them back into the workforce.

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