According to The Nikkei Asian Review, Japanese companies can be notoriously sexist, smaller businesses especially so -- or so the stereotype goes. But one snack maker about 50 km from Tokyo has minded the gender gap for decades.
"Working here, I feel like I won't be denied opportunities because of my gender or my age," said Yuriko Iida, a team leader at Sanshu Seika, a mid-size company in the city of Kasukabe. As a mother of a four- and a two-year-old, she joined Sanshu because it allowed her to advance her career even after becoming a mother -- something that unfortunately can be an uphill battle in many of Japan's workplaces.
As far back as 2003, the Japanese government set a goal to have women make up 30% of managerial roles, although that benchmark has been lowered over the years. In fact, at the top 100 Japanese companies in 2017, women made up only 6.5% of executives, including auditors and corporate officers.
However, Sanshu is ahead of the curve at 31%, with President Shinichi Sainohira pushing for greater diversity in its workforce since 1988. His efforts were largely inspired by his time at what is now Panasonic, where he worked before he took over Sanshu from his father, the company's founder.
"Back then, female workers were only given support roles and were placed in low-rank positions," he said. "I thought things couldn't stay this way."
As soon as he became president, Sainohira formed a committee from the company's top talent to plan bottom-up efforts for advancing female employees. The committee's first proposal was for a woman to be promoted to assistant manager or higher every time a man achieved these positions, which can attend managerial meetings. The idea was to gradually narrow the gender gap at the top by promoting an equal number of men and women.
Skeptics at the time questioned whether the company had enough qualified female workers, or if women would want management roles. But Sainohira pushed through.
"Nothing will change without decisive action," he said.
Many of the committee's plans have been implemented. For example, workers used to be exempt from overtime until their children entered elementary school. In response to popular demand, parents can now opt out until their children are in third grade.
Subscribe to our English Newsletter