Women's Leadership Gets a Boost from Japanese Government

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe answers a question during a press conference at his official residence in Tokyo on June 26, 2013. Abe said he will spend the next three years rebuilding the nation's fragile economy, the foundation of Tokyo's global standing.  AFP PHOTO / TOSHIFUMI KITAMURAIf you think gender equality has a ways to go in the United States, just be grateful we’re not Japan. The World Economic Forum ranks Japan 104th out of 142 countries assessed in its Gender Gap Index, and women are only 11 percent of Japan’s managers and supervisors.So Japan has some work to do—but the good news is that it just took a major step in the right direction. On Friday Japan’s House of Councillors voted 230-1 to require companies to set public targets for hiring and promoting female managers. The new law will apply to companies of 300 employees or more and will go into effect in April 2016.(As of press time we don’t know the name of the sole lawmaker who voted against this, but we’re oh-so-curious about it. Who is this person, and what does he or she have against women?!)As the AP points out, the law “only requires that targets be set, not met, and does not address a lack of enforcement of existing requirements for companies to give equal pay for equal work.” However, Kathy Matsui of Goldman Sachs Japan Co. believes the law will still be effective at motivating employers to promote women; she told the Wall Street Journal, “Some firms will be relatively proactive in their gender disclosures and ambitious with their targets for females in senior management, while other firms within the same industry will likely feel sufficient peer pressure to follow suit.”Prime Minister Shinzo Abe hailed the decision at a conference, saying, “This is the first step toward putting women into positions that have decision-making authority. Japan has moved forward onto a new stage.”The law isn’t just encouraging companies to do the right thing; it’s also prodding them to help out the sluggish Japanese economy. Last year Goldman Sachs estimated that Japan could boost its economy by as much as 13 percent by closing its gender employment gap.What applies in Fortune 1000 companies applies in Japan as well: what’s good for women is good for business.