David Blecken
Dec 9, 2016

Can Japan's ad industry become a model for gender equality?

We begin a series on female leadership in Japan by reflecting on how far the sector has come—and where it needs to go.

Can Japan's ad industry become a model for gender equality?

Shinzo Abe’s ‘womenomics’—his apparent drive to open up Japan’s workplace for women—looks set to remain a controversial topic well into 2017. While Abe has trumpeted a commitment to making the country a place where women can thrive in business and politics, sceptics see plenty of lip service but little change. The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index 2016 shows the scale of work needed: Japan ranks 111th out of 144 in terms of gender equality, just below Ethiopia and Nepal. We have yet to see a female chief executive at a Nikkei 225 company.

The problem affects nearly all sectors, including advertising and marketing. Some years ago, a male foreign executive who had just taken on an international role at a major Japanese advertising agency, said that one of his first questions to the suits assembled in the Tokyo boardroom was, “Where are all the women?”. Observers have pointed to a similarly male-heavy scenario at any Japan Advertising Agencies Association (JAAA) gathering.

Little seems to have changed. A recent study published in JAAA Reports shows that women make up less than a quarter of all advertising industry employees in Japan. That compares to nearly half in finance and insurance. And just 0.2 percent of female advertising professionals are board members. 

It’s far from a uniquely Japanese issue though. Advertising just isn’t as inclusive an industry as it likes to make out. Just this year, two global agency heads, JWT’s Gustavo Martinez and Saatchi & Saatchi’s Kevin Roberts, resigned over alleged discriminatory behaviour and remarks. But there is hope: WPP CEO Martin Sorrell has said he sees female leadership as “the most effective catalyst” for progress, and indeed a woman, Tamara Ingram, immediately replaced Martinez at JWT. There have been encouraging sings in Japan too. Last year, Hakuhodo appointed its first female corporate officer, Ayami Nakao. And Dentsu recently appointed a woman, Chieko Ohuchi, to lead a creative division for the first time.

In an interview shortly after her appointment, Nakao made clear that she is not in favour of so-called ‘positive discrimination’—hiring or promoting someone based on gender or ethnicity. We do not advocate this either. But we do think the marketing industry can become a leader in furthering gender equality in Japan; it’s just a case of making a conscious, collective decision to do so.

We don't just hope to see more talented women enter the industry. Most importantly, they must be rewarded for their contribution in the same way as their male counterparts. The benefits of having more female professionals in the industry are obvious: for one thing, more gender balance will enable better understanding of consumers and the creation of more rounded strategies.

With this sentiment in mind, we would like to introduce our series on female leadership in marketing. The series will by no means be exhaustive. But we hope the interviews with the individuals we have selected will prove thought provoking and offer some insight into hard-fought achievements. We begin the series with an interview with Dentsu’s Ohuchi. Her story is a reminder that while Dentsu and the industry as a whole need to commit to both improving working conditions and increasing diversity, it is nonetheless a company that prizes innovation and is willing to empower its most capable staff.

This article appeared first on Campaign Japan: 広告業界は「男女平等」のモデルケースとなれるか 

Campaign Japan

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