Recommendations from RISE based on the Results of Qualitative Research in 2013

(Working Women's Aspiration for Managerial Positions)

1. Purpose of Survey

We established NPO GEWEL in 2003 to support more women to be promoted to decision-making positions in corporations and organizations and originally provided training programs for individuals and consulting services to corporations from the viewpoint of “supporting the success of women in the workplace.” However, we have found that men do not have a sense of ownership when we place emphasis on “women,” making them think that the problem is none of their business. Since 2005, we have expanded our mission by “promoting Diversity and Inclusion in the Japanese society and corporations.” We have provided consulting services and training “to develop a corporate culture that accepts diversity where values and abilities of each person are well recognized and utilized.”

As a result of integrated global economy due to rapid progress of IT technology and further expansion into the global market by Japanese corporations that are concerned about the future of Japanese economy in the last ten years, “promotion of Diversity and Inclusion” in Japanese society became No.1 priority to be competitive in global arena. Furthermore, since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has clearly placed the success of women in the workplace as one of his most critical agendas of growth strategy after change of government a year ago, the government offices and economic organizations have begun to show a willingness to make serious efforts for “promoting women” that is the most familiar discussion of Diversity in the Japanese society.

Although women who aspire for managerial positions have increased slightly during the last ten years (especially among women in their late 20’s and early 30’s who are the generation just before being promoted to managers), according to the survey conducted by RISE in 2011, women who wanted to assume “higher positions” were well below men at 24.6% compared with 39.4% of men. In 2013, there was a news report that “more female employees, fresh out of college, wanted to be managers in the future.” However, many women who are actually working in corporations seem still reluctant to be promoted to managerial positions as shown in the RISE’s survey in 2011. “How long will the vigor of young female workers fresh out of college are maintained?” We are concerned that unless the gap between the intention of the government, as well as corporations and the will of these women are not resolved, further promotion of Diversity and Inclusion in the Japanese society (especially promotion of gender diversity) will face a new challenge.

Through in-depth interviews this time, we have explored “what efforts corporations need to make to motivate female employees to assume managerial positions” by asking deeply about their real opinions. At the same time, we would like to share “what we want women to think about” as our recommendations based on the survey results.


2. Real Opinions of Working Women and the Implications

As their life plan, working women are conscious of fulfilling “women’s role of getting married and having children.” At the same time, they have a stronger desire “to keep working” to supplement the family income and maintain their involvement in society as long as their family situation permits them to continue to work. This phenomenon is collaborated by the data indicating that the M-shaped curve is more leveled (see the figure below.) However, their higher motivation to keep working is not necessarily linked with their positive attitude toward managerial positions. Their candid feelings are that they are satisfied as long as they can enjoy economical merits and be engaged in society by having a job. In this situation, it is difficult to produce female leaders as expected by corporations.


Labor Force Participation Rates of Women by Age (from 1997 to 2012)

The Bureau of Statistics of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications


One of the reasons that women do not want to be managers is that they think “they have to work on holidays or longer hours if they become managers, which makes it difficult for them to balance work and private life.” It seems there is a negative image of managers in the workplace after seeing or listening to actions and words of bosses or managers. Middle managers are always put in the very tough position regardless of gender.

In addition, traditional roles of men and women in the Japanese companies still appear to remain strongly. The companies, which participated in a survey conducted by the Japan Association of Corporate Executives in 2013, answered as follows the reasons for not being able to increase female managers. We would like to add the females’ points of view and their way of thinking revealed in our survey this time for each of the reasons.

Issues: There are not many women who aspire for managerial positions.

・Quite a lot of women display a negative attitude toward managerial positions while they are positive in enhancing their expertise. Some of employees are passionate about promoting women, but there are many employees who show little interest.
Women try to enhance their expertise because they have been brought up that way in the workplace or society. Many companies still do not give women opportunities to experience various job duties and responsibilities by rotation as they do for men. Isn’t there an unconscious bias saying that “women only display their strengths in their expertise or specialist jobs and do not do as well in management?”

・Many women excel in their practical business ability, but what’s happening now is that not many of them take the initiative to aim for managerial positions
If women hear negative evaluation of female managers in the company, as well as how hard are the managerial positions regardless of gender, it is natural that the company cannot increase women who aspire for managerial positions. Practical business ability can be improved through daily repeated work, but women are not given a chance to experience a wide range of work required to be promoted to a manager.

・Even if we try to promote women, sometimes they decline promotion saying that they lack ability. More women want to work freely and easily, even though they have enough ability.
If the job description states clearly “what responsibilities are required in the position,” women can understand what skills and competency they need to improve in order to fulfill their duties and responsibilities. So, clarifying the work content in the job description could help women eliminate their concern of “lack of ability” caused by their lack of understanding. Human relationship in the workplace and the way of giving instructions based on traditional “unspoken mutual understanding” may be beyond the comprehension of young men too.

・Even though quantitative expansion of female employees such as increased ratio of women hired among the new graduates is progressing, we have realized that improvement of the talent development and commitment by women by themselves is not enough, and it is an important issue for the future.
・Some women do not regard management as an attractive position.
・Women lack an awareness of assuming managerial positions in the future.
Talking about quality, setting development aside, women’s commitment can change depending on how they are treated by people around them (sense of Inclusion). Women do not feel that they are highly expected to perform. It would be vital to check again if there is an atmosphere to recognize and promote women as colleagues or equal partners in the workplace.

The issues raised by the companies who answered to the questionnaire of the Japan Association of Corporate Executives are, in fact, women’s honest response to the corporate culture they see on a daily basis. Women are keenly aware of difficulty of playing an active role as management in corporations and that is why they give comments like they want their husbands to achieve successful careers, because they think the male-dominated society will continue.

We have always believed that high self-esteem positively correlates with the aspiration for managerial positions, and we have found from the survey this time that high self-esteem is indeed connected with confidence of performing the job in general. However, while positive self-esteem leads to “confidence of performing the job that comes from recognition of job performance by surrounding people,” it seems positive self-esteem alone is not necessarily enough to develop aspirations for managerial positions, especially in the workplace where the entire atmosphere reflects strong male-dominated society.


3. Recommendations from RISE based on the Survey Results to Promote Increase of Female Managers

Recommendation to Corporations

As we have already commented about the issues faced by the corporations, which participated in the survey of the Japan Association of Corporate Executives, we believe that drastic change is required in traditional male-centered value, way of working, and consciousness of gender role in the Japanese corporations. It is important to ensure elimination of factors that kill women’s hope for managerial positions by examining what we have regarded as natural, one by one. In addition, if management understands that “promoting Diversity and Inclusion in the company” including gender diversity is an urgent and essential issue to respond to globalization, it may be effective to take the plunge and advocate “Positive Action (to promote a certain number of women at once.)” In this case, management and superiors need to work as one to protect women who are promoted as they are subject to severe criticism. By developing good role models among these women, it will become possible to change the way of thinking and assumption of young women.

Recommendations for Women

Women should realize that if they choose “to accept the male-dominated society and maintain current status,” Japan will never change. There is more to life than marriage, child-bearing, and child rearing. The reason that you were born into this world depends on the career you build. Career does not mean “promotion in the organization or what you have done in the organization.” It means the track laid by the wheels of the carriage in the old times, or more specifically, it is “the path that you have lived.” You need to choose and decide what kind of path you want to create in what kind of world. If you choose to keep working in corporations, why not consider to choose the way of working that contributes to your corporation?