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Business trends

Japan adds female executives but they take only 8% of board seats

Participation falls well short of West even after 60% jump over two years

Japan has made strides in boosting women's participation in the management of corporations.

TOKYO -- Japanese businesses have made progress in naming more women who have risen through the ranks to executive positions, but female participation in management still falls far short of levels in Western nations.

The number of female executives in Japan rose nearly 60% over two years through mid-2020, according to a survey by Nikkei Inc. and corporate governance advisory firm ProNed conducted to mark International Women's Day on Monday.

The survey targeted 320 companies on the first section of the Tokyo Stock Exchange that generate annual revenue of 500 billion yen ($4.61 billion) or more, with responses received from 85 by early March. Though prior surveys have covered female board members and auditors, this is the first that includes executive officers.

There were 170 women serving as directors, corporate officers, executive officers or auditors as of July 1, up 57% from 108 two years prior. Executive officers accounted for the largest group at 91, followed by directors, which numbered 40. The survey shows that more women are directly involved in management.

About 17% of the female executive officers previously worked in human resources or general affairs, followed by 16% in sales or marketing. Roughly 70% of these managers were in their 50s, a sign that women who were hired out of college after an equal opportunity law took effect in 1986 have gained experience and track records.

One company that added female managers is Nippon Paint Holdings. The manufacturer had no female managers in 2019, but now two of its eight corporate officers are women, and a woman became an executive officer last year.

Women on average made up 7% of total in-house executives at the 85 companies that responded to the survey. This is less than the 17% share that women hold on outside director positions at companies listed in the TSE's first section.

But women occupied 45% of board seats at listed companies in France and 26% in the U.S., well above the 8% in Japan, according to a study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

The Japan Business Federation, the powerful lobby group also known as Keidanren, hopes to address this issue, unveiling in November a goal to increase the ratio of female executives to at least 30% by 2030. Of the member companies that responded, just 21% called the target achievable while 52% said they were unsure.

"Companies should quickly promote women and young workers to executive positions so that they can reflect the views of diverse stakeholders in corporate management," said Shigeru Uchigasaki, president and CEO of Tokyo-based Human Resources Governance Leaders.

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