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Harvey Nash responds to Japanese gender equality move

Nick Marsh, Managing Director, Harvey Nash Executive Search APAC

The recent legislation from the Japan's Upper House, requiring companies with 301 employees or more to set numerical targets for the percentage of female hires and managers, then make those targets and current ratios public in April 2016, is welcome news for those of us at Harvey Nash and the Women's Directorship Programme. It is great to know that the Japanese government has finally responded to pressure about the lack of diversity in its businesses and is supporting an initiative aimed at increasing female representation. 

In my opinion, this move is seen more as a 'rule' rather than a law, as there are no clear penalties for those who do not make their targets, only those who provide false information. However, any initiative aimed at encouraging employers to finally put in place systems that will keep women in the workplace in Japan is a big step forward. 

The announcement will put peer pressure on the business community to come together and commit to diversity initiatives. These are groups similar to the UK's 30% club, which helped to galvanise support of the government's diversity targets through peer pressure and sharing of best practices. The 30% club is a voluntary approach with concerted business-led efforts and pressure from companies and networks to collaborate and accelerate progress towards gender balance at all levels of organisations. 

In reality, the issue has never really been about getting women into the workplace in Japan; between 40-50% of graduates in Japan are female and the majority go onto employment post-graduation. The real challenge has been keeping women in work after they become mothers, when the majority tend to leave the workforce to focus on family life. 

If the new rule is to succeed, companies need to offer better support for working parents, for example offering crèches or flexible working hours, so women feel they can continue to work after they become mothers. If companies focus on policies designed at keeping a diverse workforce, then the talent pool of experienced women will increase, and ultimately so will the number of women on boards and in similar high-ranking positions. 

While the true affects of this announcement will be seen after April, once the figures are revealed, this announcement is a positive move towards increasing female representation in one of the region's least diverse workforces. Perhaps this will inspire governments in Singapore and Hong Kong to finally address the similar issues faced by women in their markets - it all starts with a first step.

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