David Blecken
Mar 6, 2019

Gender equality still a vague concept for many in Japan

Research by McCann Worldgroup finds a lot of people simply do not see the point of a gender-balanced workplace.

From left: Kieko Mori, Momentum; Akira Matsumoto, Rizap; Kaori Fujiwara, Calbee
From left: Kieko Mori, Momentum; Akira Matsumoto, Rizap; Kaori Fujiwara, Calbee

A lack of understanding around the purpose and benefits of gender equality in the workplace is stifling reform in Japan, a study by McCann Worldgroup suggests.

Just 22% of 2,000 people surveyed think Japanese workplaces are gender-equal—although the number rises to 38% when considering their own workplace.

Yet only 54% said they believe gender equality to be important. A full 29% said they do not, while 17% were unsure. To the question ‘who benefits from gender equality’, 30% responded “no one”.

Although a relatively high 64% of single women see it as important, just 42% of single men do. And the “gender gap” is something people are not comfortable talking about: 64% of women and 61% of men said they did not want to discuss the issue.

The study showed that both men and women dislike being judged based on gender. 71% of women said they had experienced gender bias from a male boss. However, 72% of women fail to take any action when it happens.

Male bosses demonstrated gender bias to 59% of male respondents, while 20% said they had felt bias from female superiors.

Presenting the top-line findings from the study, Jun Matsumoto, planning director at McCann Erickson in Tokyo, said before conducting the research, she “wasn’t really into the gender thing”, but was now much more engaged. “I made many discoveries I never thought I would come across,” she said.

The study also highlighted the challenges parents face when returning to work after having children. One interviewee said in an ideal world, she would be “on the slow track” while raising a young child and return to the “fast track” once the child is more independent. “But I’m not sure that’s possible,” she said.

Matsumoto said companies need to offer more flexibility to employees regardless of gender, noting that they want to participate “in diverse ways depending on who they are and their life stage”.

She said it was important to realise that gender equality affects everyone, not just women. Before presenting the research, she pointed to Goldman Sachs figures stating that hiring female managers leads to an average GDP increase of 13%. She added that brands have a role to play in improving people’s attitudes, noting that around 50% of people think gender portrayals in the media are outdated.

Matsumoto advised advertisers to portray women as either independent or collaborating with men; to address both genders where possible; to avoid being “too negative or too serious” if presenting a gender-related issue; to focus on the future rather than criticising the past; to avoid pitting one group against another; and to “notice and think together” rather than lecturing.

A panel discussion followed the presentation, including Akira Matsumoto (no relation), director of the self-improvement company Rizap. A prominent advocate of gender equality, Matsumoto had some sobering words for those hoping for reform. “Is top management interested in diversity?” he asked. “Maybe, but it’s an extremely low priority. Their top priority is performance; then golf at the weekend, then going to clubs in Ginza. Diversity should be as high a priority as performance. But if we’re going to promote it, it has to happen together with the government’s reforms. Everyone’s talking about reform but it’s not working because they’re not working hand in hand.”

He added that Japan was stuck in a post-war mindset, with companies too rigid in their working arrangements, which makes it difficult for women to fulfil their potential. “I don’t believe in set working hours,” he said. “We should be working not by hours but by performance. Where you work and what you do doesn’t matter as long as you deliver… It’s not just about increasing the number of female managers; I think we also need to transform the way we work.”

He urged younger employees to put pressure on company management. “Band together and challenge the management to come up with a distinct vision, a distinct plan, and have them commit,” he said. “Nothing will change if you don’t band together. Most people just complain. You have to challenge the management and ask them if they’re going to change the situation and if not, just quit. Those kinds of companies will not do well in the future anyway, I’m sure of that.”

Campaign's Women Leading Change

We'll be discussing gender equality and attitudes towards women in media and marketing at our annual Women Leading Change conference in Singapore on 4 June, 2019.

Register your interest and find out more about entering our Women Leading Change Awards (early bird entry deadline: 8 March) at www.womenleadingchange.asia.

Campaign Japan

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