The necessity of women’s full integration and participation in Japan’s economy has become apparent; the third largest economy in the world, Japan is also the fastest-aging economy in history. More...
The necessity of women’s full integration and participation in Japan’s economy became apparent. The third largest economy in the world, Japan is also the fastest-aging economy in history. Japan’s Ministry of Health currently projects the working-age population in Japan to shrink by 25 percent, from 127.8 million in 2005 to 95.2 million in 2050, reflecting a birthrate of 1.4 children per woman, one of the lowest in the world. Japan’s economy needs its women to participate: just 65 percent of women ages 15–64 work, compared with 84.6 percent of men. Closing the gap between male and female employment would increase Japan’s Gross Domestic Product by as much as 13 percent, according to a 2013 study by Goldman Sachs.
Women in Japan face a particular burden when balancing work and home life. Cultural expectations and women’s past interactions with the labor market result in Japan’s rank of 104th out of 142 economies surveyed for the World Economic Forum’s 2014 Global Gender Gap report. When women in Japan have children, 60 percent of them drop out of the workforce —a rate higher than that of any other industrialized economy. If they return, their work is more unstable and their wages lower. Also, when they return, the majority of women are in “non-regular” positions —jobs that are relatively low-wage or temporary. Just 5.6 percent of employees on the “main” career track—that is, positions that eventually lead to management—are women. Japan registers a significant gap in wages: according to the 2011 Global Gender Gap Report: women in Japan earn, on average, just 60 percent of what men earn for similar work.
Women also face multiple barriers at home. Men in Japan spend the least amount of time on housework and childcare of men in similarly-developed economies, and approximately 20 percent of men ages 30–49 regularly spend 60 hours or more a week on their jobs. The lack of childcare centers has been highlighted by the press to be a crisis, and childcare is even harder to obtain for women freelancers and entrepreneurs.
There are indications that dynamic and entrepreneurial women—many who leave traditional employment due to the so-called “titanium ceiling” or due to children—could spark economic growth. Women make up half of those receiving tertiary education, and 23 percent of women obtain bachelor degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields, laying a solid foundation to build an entrepreneurial and innovation-based economy. At one point (1997–2002—the last year that data was published), women started businesses at twice the rate of men. Women entrepreneurs tend to be young and have limited access to financing, using their savings instead. However, according to 2014 data published by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM), the level of entrepreneurial intention is among the lowest in the world—only 2.5 percent of the population in Japan will start a business in the next three years, compared with 12.1 percent in the United States, a similarly-developed economy. Under GEM’s “fear of failure” measure, Japan registers among the highest in the world, at 55 percent. Significant social stigma attaches to bankruptcy and failure.
To address the gender gap, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has focused immense attention and policy action toward the advancement of women in Japan’s economy, dubbing the policy “Womenomics,”or the understanding that as a society empowers women, the economy’s growth rate will soar. The components of Womenomics focus on active economic participation by women, women’s leadership in public and private sectors, and creating an enabling environment for women to thrive in Japan’s economy. Women represent a significant part of Japan’s Revitalization Strategy—one of its target key performance indicators is to increase women’s employment rate from 68 percent in 2012 to 73 percent in 2020.
The demonstrated necessity of women’s involvement in the economy, as well as the recent policy shift toward enabling such participation, underlines Japan’s commitment to women’s empowerment. As detailed in this section, Japan’s support for women entrepreneurs can be considered best practices, though opportunities for improvement are found in both the public and private sectors.
Business networks in Japan provide women with an important opportunity to exchange experiences and receive training to expand their enterprises, climb the corporate ladder, and further their knowledge of technology and innovation. Business networks in Japan are plentiful, especially those dedicated to advancing women’s capacity, leadership, and integration of innovation and technology, though there are limited business networks devoted to supporting women’s access to capital and markets. Whether formally, as in most cases highlighted below, or informally, such as through Meetup, women are gathering to carve their path for more inclusion into the public and private sectors of the Japanese economy.
Networks that support women’s access to capital and assets:
Networks that support women’s access to markets:
Networks that support strengthened capacity and skills for women in business:
Networks that support women’s leadership, voice and agency:
Networks that support women and innovation and technology:
The private sector has taken significant strides in Japan to incorporate women into the formal economy. Such movements toward women’s economic empowerment are not a result of solely socially responsible targets, but “gender ‘diversity’ became a clear comparative advantage” in business. The private sector’s initiatives stretch further the sector’s internal personnel policies and include integrating Japanese women into the supply chain, advance their exposure to and knowledge in STEM-related professions, and develop women’s leadership in decision-making roles. The government is prompting business on the greater inclusion of women, with the publication of data on women at private companies—to help “visualize” all the roles that women have. Over 1,232 companies, as of April 2013, had published data through the Gender Equality Bureau.
Private sector initiatives targeted at Japanese entrepreneurs are lacking, regardless of whether the entrepreneurs are men and women. Access to finance is among the most challenging aspects of start-ups in Japan, with few resources, like angel investor networks, that can be found in other similar economies. Fear of failure also extends to banks, which can be hesitant to lend to unproven entrepreneurs. Start-up incubators, like Startup Weekend, Entrepreneurs Group Growing (EGG) Japan and Samurai Startup Island, are few compared with other developed countries, but growing in number.
Understanding that women’s access to such necessary resources largely inhibits their entrepreneurial and professional success, banking institutions and other private sector funding entities and actors could empower a larger portion of the female population and, as a result, boost Japan’s economic success.
Initiatives that support women’s access to capital and assets:
Initiatives that support women’s access to markets:
Initiatives that support strengthened capacity and skills for women in business:
Initiatives that support women’s leadership, voice and agency:
Initiatives that support women and innovation and technology:
Prime Minister Abe’s Abenomics plan, specifically the Womenomics component, is a progressive move toward women’s empowerment in Japanese society, though there is still considerable amount of work to be done by the government toward full inclusion. There is currently a dearth of government-supported opportunities for women entrepreneurs, especially to encourage women’s access to markets. The Government of Japan has made significant strides to incorporate women at very high leadership levels, including at in his Cabinet.
Yet women won only 45 of the 475 lower house seats available last election, which is seven seats higher than in 2012, but proportionally well below other industrialized economies. In many spheres of the economy, including the public sector and its programs, many Japanese women find difficulty in inclusion and the nomination process because of cultural biases, though the recent increase in targeted programming for women provides motivation for increased government services for female entrepreneurs.