Focus on…our March 12th conference: Can women save Japan ?

Japan is in decline and the situation is getting worse day after day with a very low birth rate, not soon to ensure the renewal of the labor force. Between a declining birth rate and a fragile economy, economists and politicians in Japan are faced with a dilemma: open the country to immigration or increase its workforce by encouraging women to work. Japan is indeed now part of the "bad students" (behind Dubai ...) concerning the role of women in the workplace.

Faced with this situation, there is an emergency for a profound change soon.

Christine Lagarde, IMF Director, was well aware of this challenge when, in October 2012, during her visit to Japan, she said that only women could save Japan but that would imply that they have access to the workplace and executive responsibilities.

And the political sphere is becoming to realize it also, with the example of the well noticed policy speech of the new prime minister, Shinzo Abe, who seems today to be conscious that the revitalization of the Japanese economy will necessarily pass through opening the companies to women.

Femmes Actives Japon (FAJ), in partnership with the French Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Japan (CCIFJ) wished to continue the debate by devoting an evening to the question of the place of women in business in Japan, surrounded by recognized experts and leading personalities from Japanese business sphere.

The March 12 event entitled "Can women save Japan?" was particularly outstanding: the high profile panelists, the quality of their presentations and the relevant discussion that followed, moderated by Regis Arnaud, chief editor of France Japon Eco (the magazine of the CCIFJ) contributed undoubtedly for thought.

 Kathy Matsui, macro-economist at Goldman Sachs, an unquestioned authority on the topic of women in business and author of the famous report Womenomics, opened the event by taking from the very first minutes, the conviction of the room, completely captivated by her bold and energetic style. It took her only a few figures to demonstrate the urgency of the situation: Japan is the penultimate country, before Korea, where the rate of female participation in the workforce is the lowest. We could also learn that it is the job dissatisfaction which retains the Japanese women at home, 77% of them want to work after their first pregnancy, but only 43% succeed. Kathy Matsui recalled with accuracy and a touch of humor, that it is now urgent for Japanese to have children rather than dogs since the fact is that the more women work, the more children they have, in Japan as in the rest of the world.

The brilliant Georges Desvaux, managing director of McKinsey Japan and co-author of the report "Women Matters Project" was in tune, with supporting figures; the McKinsey report shows that barriers to women's access to work are numerous, especially in Asia, but to make things happen, the more effective way is ultimately the commitment of the Executive Committee. Over the past thirty years, the government has taken steps to improve equality between men and women: laws on equal opportunities, parental leave...

Davy Le Doussal, lawyer (TMI Associates), presented inputs and unfortunately limits of such a policy. Too often, the law is only an incentive because it is not accompanied by penalties for non-compliance by companies

At the end of these three insighful presentations on the professional environment for women, a roundtable on business initiatives took place aiming at promoting careers for women.

Jean-Louis Laurent Josi, CEO of Axa Japan, Etsuko Katsu, Vice President of Meiji University, M.Sugimoto, HRD of Bristol Myers Squibb and Serge Goldenberg, CEO of Schneider Electric Japan, have shared their visions of gender issues and the actions implemented within their structures. Fighting against the weight of the Japanese corporate culture with the support of employees, creating an environment that inspires women to continue to work to ensure that the talents are identified and promoted, limiting overtime, having a strategy of voluntary recruitment ... all these topics have been illustrated by the experiences of the panel.

For many managers, the only efficient way to have the rules of the game changed is to accompany the promotion of women by awareness-raising and investment committees.

At the end of the evening, we learnt a lot from these experiences and discussions continued for more than an hour around the buffet at the Institute’s Brasserie. This evening was also an opportunity for many, especially Japanese ladies, to discover the activities of our association, FAJ. 130 people were gathered, the auditorium of the Institute was full. A very positive sign of the relevance of the issues raised during this debate for many Japanese women present on that night.

On March 12, there was in the air like a soft perfume of a possible "Japanese Spring", where we dared to hope that things could –even slightly- change… to be followed definitely…

To read the Mc Kinsey report, click here:  "Women Matters Project"

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