The Global Summit of Women met in Tokyo last week to discuss ways to expand economic opportunities for women around the world. With a record-breaking 1,500 government, business, and science leaders present (most of whom were women), the Summit championed the political, social, and commercial actions that boost the roles of women as leaders in the workforce.
At the opening ceremony, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe voiced his support for the Summit’s work, recognizing it as necessary in Japan’s current economic and social climate. “In the face of falling population, Japan needs the power of women,” Abe said. “I believe women’s advancement in the society can contribute to create a stronger, diversified society.” During the Summit, Abe was honored with the Global Women’s Leadership Award for his efforts in combating systemic obstacles that keep women from participating in the economy to the fullest.
When Abe took office, he set a goal to increase female participation in the workforce and female leadership in business. The prime minister recognized that women tend to leave the workforce when they have children because of how difficult it is to work long job hours while caring for a family. That’s why he enacted a new policy that actually encourages male government workers to take time off from work after their child is born. The new practice aims to grow men’s child rearing responsibilities and lessen the burden on new mothers.
Currently, the Abe Administration is looking for ways to pressure businesses to increase female leadership without having to enact a new legislative quota. Goldman Sachs’ chief Japan strategist, Kathy Matsui, explained why she believes such quotas are a bad idea: “The problem is that even in countries like Norway where there is greater board diversity due to the introduction of quotas, there haven’t been parallel shifts within managerial ranks.” Matsui says that Abe’s approach might better help women to be viewed as leaders in the workplace. “It is similar to the way that Japan is trying to enforce better corporate governance: peer pressure. It is slower than a quota, but it may be more effective in creating the necessary culture shift.”
Right now, women account for 3.4 percent of business executives in Japan. If that number seems small, know that before Abe took office in 2013, it was a mere 1.8 percent. According to Summit President Irene Natividad, there’s more potential for the economy to grow as women become more involved in the workforce. Natividad said, “If women’s economic potential is fully harnessed, their productivity will be equal to China’s and India’s economies combined.” She continued, “So I hope here at the Summit we can help unleash that potential economic power.”
Next year’s Summit will be held in Sydney, Australia. Although the event is a year away, it’s already projected to put $2 million into the local economy and to attract commercial and political leaders from 80 countries. If that isn’t unleashing economic power, what is?
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