BCCJ marks International Women’s Day

Written by Sterling Content
March 30, 2018


Written by Sterling Content
March 30, 2018

Gender parity in the workplace can be achieved by transforming policy into practice, setting targets, creating role models and supporting men to be more active at home, according to a panel of experts from BCCJ member firms.

Speaking at the BCCJ’s International Women’s Day Event on 8th March, the leaders from Barclays, the British Embassy Tokyo, Unilever Japan, IBM Japan and GSK Japan shared the work by their organisations to empower women and considered what more can be done.

Women in history, the world

Welcoming BCCJ members to the fully booked function at the British Embassy Tokyo, British Ambassador to Japan Paul Madden CMG said International Women’s Day 2018 marked an on opportunity to reflect on the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women in Japan, the UK and around the world.

He noted that 2018 marks 100 years since women in the UK (albeit only those who were over 30 and owned property or were university graduates voting in a university constituency) gained the right to vote.

“The Women’s Movement has gone on to achieve a great deal in many areas: maternity leave rights, equal pay and domestic violence legislation … 2018 is a standpoint from which to take stock of the incalculable contribution women have made in every sphere of human activity,” he said.

Reminiscing on his first posting to Japan some 30 years ago, Madden said the role of women in Japan “has changed dramatically,” adding that the “direction of travel is a positive one” but that “the pace of change has been insufficient.”

He pointed to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report, published in November 2017, which placed Japan 114th out of 144 countries. Though he welcomed the UK’s rank of 15th, he said “all countries can do better and [the UK] must continue to strive to do so.”

Social and economic merits

Mark Dearlove, CEO Japan and head of markets Asia Pacific for Barclays, the event sponsor, said Japan’s female employment rate, at 66%, is higher than that of the United States. However, the Abe government’s revision of the target of 30% of senior positions to be filled by women by 2020 (to 7% for the public sector and 15% for the private sector by 2021) reveals there is still much to do.

By addressing gender parity, defined by the European Institute for Gender Equality as “the equal contribution of women and men to every dimension of life, whether private or public,” the GDP of the UK and Japan could be boosted by $200 billion and $550 billion respectively, he explained.

Panellist Fulvio Guarneri, CEO of Unilever Japan, agreed on the economic benefit. He said: “At Unilever, we want 50% of the organisation and the board to be women. We don’t want that just for gender equality or female empowerment; it improves performance.”

He added that gender parity would also ensure Japan’s long-term survival as it faces an ageing and declining population.

Best practice

Rachel Huf, head of legal, managing director and Asia Executive committee member of Barclays, and Naomi Hill, VP global financing at IBM Japan, shared the positive ways in which an international company can boost gender parity.

For example, when Barclays set up its Women’s Initiatives Network in 2006, one of its first initiatives was to set a 22-week maternity leave for staff throughout its Asia offices rather than the country-by-country statutory minimum allowance system that had been in place. The firm also offers adoption leave for primary care givers and, since September 2017, gender-neutral non-primary care giver leave of six weeks.

“Policies don’t work unless you make them work in practice and people actually adopt them,” said Huf, adding that she took her 22-week maternity allowance. What’s more, the first person (a man) scheduled to take the firm’s non-primary care giver leave was among attendees at the BCCJ event.

Hill explained that IBM Japan’s integration as a direct report into the IBM corporation has helped the implementation of global policies on gender quality.

“We try to be a globally integrated enterprise, to work by specialism, and to have a more vertical structure,” she said, adding that it allows staff to find best practice more easily. As a result, she reported that a greater number of women have moved into higher salary bands and higher positions within IBM and called on managers to “identify high-potential women and push them up, creating an environment [for them] that is as risk free as you can make it.”

Meanwhile, Yuka Okumura, HR director of GSK Japan, encouraged senior staff to “dive deep” into their data on male and female representation at work to better understand the issues facing their firm. In GSK, for example, 28% of the workforce is female but the gender ratio varies by sector; 60% of the R&D department is female compared to 12% of the sales team, making it necessary to have a tailored approach to targets.

Quotas or no quotas?

Both panellists and attendees (via a show of hands) were asked to vote on the use of quotas to raise women into senior positions. The response was divided, with slightly more attendees against the idea.

According to Rachel King, minister counsellor at the British Embassy, Tokyo, “there can be a role for quotas in affecting rapid change and achieving the sort of critical mass that is needed to producer sustainable change. Some countries including France, Germany and the Netherlands, for example, have introduced quotas to increase the number of women on company boards. But there are real drawbacks: questions of tokenism and the risk that women and other minority groups’ value is devalued.”

King called for “targets backed up by real policies,” including practical action and cultural change.

Huf, however, suggested that quotas are “appropriate in certain circumstances” such as when targets do not work or when unconscious biases affect the recruitment of talent.

Speaking from the floor, Kaori Sasaki, founder and CEO of ewoman, Inc., commented that Japan could benefit from a time-limited quota system of 15 to 20 years, to bring quick change to the country’s business and political spheres.

Action by women and men

IBM Japan’s Hill said having various role models to which different people can relate as well as both female and male advocates is key to inspiring individuals to move into senior positions. She appealed to managers to “put a spotlight on the successful women” in their firms.

Answering a question on how to encourage men to help at home to take some burden off working women, GSK’s Okumura said that her firm holds networking and information-sharing sessions about how men can better support their wives.

As women remain the primary care giver for children, however, the firm has also introduced a system whereby mothers can return more easily to full-time work after having a child. They can switch between full-time and reduced hours as many times as they like, according to the child’s needs, until the child is in the fourth grade of elementary school.

Meanwhile, Unilever Japan’s Guarneri said that, aside from employing a nanny or help at home, which would likely require revisions to Japan’s immigration laws, enabling men to play a more active role in childcare and household chores would help gender parity at work. A flexible-hours system and fewer overtime hours for all workers in Japan would be “the best way to support women,” he said.

Photos from the event can be found on the BCCJ Flickr account HERE