David Blecken
Mar 20, 2017

Japan’s data gap feeds the gender gap

One creative director in Tokyo is frustrated by a reluctance to speak out, but believes numbers can help shock the industry into action.

Satoko Takada
Satoko Takada

David Blecken, executive editor of Campaign Japan, speaks with Satoko Takada, creative director at McCann Erickson Japan.

This article is part of a package of features:
Gender inequality in APAC adland: Scope, causes and cures

International Women’s Day has come and gone for another year. While anniversaries such as this serve to remind us of causes to fight for, Satoko Takada, a creative director at McCann in Tokyo, is frustrated by people’s reluctance to speak out about the gender gap. But she believes numbers can help shock the industry in to action.

You attended the 3% Conference in New York last year. What feeling did you come away with, with regards to female leadership?

It was just before Trump’s election. There were a lot of female leaders, people on the same level—this kind of event doesn’t happen in the Japanese advertising industry. Nearly 20 percent of attendees were male, which was really encouraging. But what was most important was that we were discussing not just human rights but diversity as a business matter. This showed there is a strong belief that diversity helps improve business performance, that it’s a key factor for effectiveness. You don’t really hear this kind of discussion in the Japanese advertisement industry. 

What else is different about the way Japan approaches this issue?

Last year at Cannes, I was part of a panel with female CDs from Sweden, India, the UK and US. A similarity I noticed is that advertising is a boys’ club everywhere. The levels of power harassment and sexism are different but they are always there. The situation for working mothers is a huge issue everywhere too. What’s different is that Japanese women hardly raise their voices. In Iceland, people protested over a 14 percent pay gap. Here, the pay gap can be between 40 to 50 percent, but I haven’t seen any protests. It makes me wonder why people keep quiet. Are we just waiting for something good to happen? When I came back from Cannes I wanted to share my thoughts with senior people and I was told, “you’d better not because you’ll be labeled a feminist”.

How did that make you feel?

At the time I didn’t have the courage to raise my voice. Then I went to the 3% conference in November and I realised it was time I should do something. I didn’t see a single attendee from Japan out of thousands of people. So I thought, if I don’t raise my voice no one will—no one will do it for me.  I started to talk about things positively and am now working on trying to get people not just from our agency but also from outside to support change. Sharing information and knowledge are probably the most important things.

Talk about the data gap in Japan. What is lacking and how would more data on this issue help move things forward?

When I talk about the gender gap, a common response is, ‘we have an equal evaluation system, with equal opportunities’; supposedly there is no discrimination, and if women aren’t promoted, maybe their work isn’t good enough. But the reality is, if we had data showing the massive gap, if the system is really equal, that level of gap would not be there. Statistically it can’t be explained if it’s a level playing field. I think it’s important to see data in order to have a conversation, rather than going by someone’s gut feeling.

One reason I started to believe this was when I saw how male-dominated that JAAA ‘2015 Creator of the Year’ issue was. It was men, men, men for both jurors and nominees —53 men and two women and somehow, with a girl on the cover. When I shared it at the panel discussion in Cannes, attendees from other countries gasped. They didn’t believe there such a massive gap could exist in a democratic country. That’s the power of data: to make things obvious. Our industry is about data and research and based on that we should have proper data to improve it and make change happen. Things could also be better than we believe—but we don’t know, because we don’t have the data.

The client side appears more open to female leadership. Why do you think this is?

At agencies, we tend to do whatever we can for a client, which results in crazy hours, which makes it difficult for women to stay in the industry. Also especially in the creative department, we believe too much that creatives are different. We want to believe we’re special, so we justify an extreme working environment as an industry.

Are there other businesses advertising could learn from in order to improve things?

The CEO of Calbee [Akira Matsumoto] is quite pro-diversity and has said if you don’t believe in it, you should leave. That kind of leadership is one of the most important things. Another client told me they hold meetings internally to share experience between older and younger generations about things like becoming parents. That effort to help each other—we should learn from that. In the ad industry, people work in smaller groups and tend to be isolated from each other.

Talk about the need for role models.

Role models don’t always have to be female as long as they are proper mentors. The good thing about female role models is that they can share experiences or knowledge that only female workers encounter. This can help people accelerate their career path or move at the same pace as men. But men who have proper understanding of what female subordinates are facing can also be role models…This is not just an issue for women. It’s about how everyone can get together and move things forward. [In supporting gender equality a man doesn’t have to be overly serious or terrify people—he just needs to help make things effective.

How do you think creative work would change if there were more female creative directors in the business?

Female creatives still tend to be given ‘female’ assignments. As a female creative director working on a female product, we can tap into consumer insights much more easily. But when working on a different product it could give the creative team a completely new perspective and that’s what we call disruption. We women account for 85 percent of household consumption, so it’s really important to have a female perspective for marketing and creative output.

How optimistic are you that the industry will be more diverse by 2020?

2020 may be a bit difficult but in general we are losing our workforce, so either it's a case of hiring immigrants, or activating people who aren’t working right now. We have a lot of talent who give up mid-career. Maximising investment in training is a key part of growth. What makes me hopeful is that Millennials around me don’t seem to have any intention of giving up their careers. As much as possible, I want to try to help them sustain their careers. At McCann, 80 percent of our new graduate recruits last year were female, so it’s not an option for us to lose a major part of our talent because we can’t provide proper support for them throughout their different life stages.

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