• Govenment set lower targets for female managers in new plan
  • Larger companies must publish action plans from April

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe presided over a ceremony to celebrate companies that have made progress in promoting women, just weeks after the government scaled back ambitious targets for increasing the number of female managers.

At Monday’s event for companies that "lead the way in letting women shine," Abe and gender equality minister Katsunobu Kato presented certificates honoring seven companies. One winner was Chiba Bank Ltd., a regional bank that raised the percentage of women in supervisory positions to 15 percent from 10 percent in the four years through 2015.

Abe is seeking to draw more women into the labor force -- and keep them there -- to bolster the world’s third-largest economy as the population ages and shrinks. As part of that campaign, he embraced a decade-old target of placing women in 30 percent of management positions in all fields by 2020.

"It’s good to highlight best practice examples because there are many companies out there who don’t even know where to start and don’t know what measures are effective, what are ineffective," said Kathy Matsui, chief Japan strategist at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. in Tokyo.

Under a law passed by the Abe government, companies with 300 employees or more will be required from April to publish data on the number and roles of female employees, as well as action plans for promoting women. Kato said in a speech later Monday he wanted to introduce preferential treatment in public tenders for companies that perform well, the Nikkei newspaper reported.

The proportion of women aged 15-64 in paid work rose to 63.6 percent last year from 59.5 percent percent in 2007, government data show, with the biggest increases among those aged 25-39 -- the generation likely to have young children. But the majority of women are still employed in part-time, contract or casual jobs, which offer poor pay and few benefits.

New Plan

A draft of a new five-year gender equality plan published earlier this month included a target of having women in just 7 percent of section-chief positions in the national bureaucracy by 2020, far short of the 30 percent level previously envisioned. It also laid out a 10 percent target for women at a similar level in private industry.

Women account for less than 3 percent of section chiefs and office directors at the Finance Ministry, the ministry said today.

"It’s a little bit concerning to me in that next April is the start of the mandatory disclosure for gender targets and action plans," said Matsui, who described the new targets as disappointing. "Lowering the official government target now ahead of when companies need to release their plans is somewhat concerning."

The other companies receiving awards for promoting women this week were:

  • SCSK Corp. (IT)
  • Imuraya Group Co. (food)
  • Dai-ichi Life Insurance Co.
  • Fancl Corp. (skin and healthcare products)
  • MEC Co. (electronics)
  • Seibu Giken Co. (refrigeration and heating equipment)
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