Bridging the Gap: Fostering Women's Empowerment in Japan, Starting in Tokyo

Governor of Tokyo Koike Yuriko and Bank of Japan Director Shimizu Tokiko are spearheading women's empowerment in the Japanese capital after being listed in Forbes US's 2022 edition of "The World's 100 Most Powerful Women."
Bank of Japan (BOJ) Director Shimizu Tokiko (right) and Governor of Tokyo Koike Yuriko (center) at the "Forbes JAPAN WOMEN AWARD Alumni Party 2023" held on April 24, 2023. Photo: courtesy of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government

Japan Lagging in Women's Leadership Globally

According to the "Global Gender Gap Report 2022," which ranks the degree of gender equality in various countries, Japan was ranked 116th out of 146 countries worldwide. This is the lowest among developed countries, highlighting the urgent need to promote women's empowerment in Japanese society.

In the 2022 edition of "The World's 100 Most Powerful Women" list published by American business magazine Forbes US, Shimizu Tokiko, the first woman to become a director at the Bank of Japan (BOJ), was ranked 56th, while Koike Yuriko, the Governor of Tokyo, was ranked 57th. With only two individuals selected from Japan, the country's representation is still relatively small compared to the 50 women from the United States, the six from India, and the five from China. According to the 2022 edition of the "The White Paper on Gender Equality" published by the Cabinet Office, Japan's representation of women in managerial positions was a meager 13.2%, significantly lower than the figures of 41.1% in the United States, 36.8% in the United Kingdom, 29.4% in Germany, and 40.2% in Sweden.

Shimizu is highly knowledgeable about the global economy, with experience in key positions such as the BOJ's general manager for Europe and chief representative in London. Photo: courtesy of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government

Tokyo's Initiatives for Bridging the Gender Gap

As part of its efforts to promote women's empowerment, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government (TMG) has been conducting office tours for female junior-high and high-school students since March 2023, taking them to visit companies in fields in which women are currently underrepresented, such as IT. By providing students with opportunities to observe successful female employees in diverse fields, the aim is to assist them in making informed career choices during their academic years and help them envision their own future paths more clearly.

"We would be delighted if this initiative encourages them to choose careers based on their own aspirations and desires, without feeling confined by the stereotypes of which jobs are suitable or unsuitable for women," said Terakura Kazunori, Director of the Women Empowerment Promotion Division at the TMG's Bureau of Citizens, Culture and Sports.

Building an Empowering Workplace for Women at the TMG

A new department dedicated to promoting women's empowerment was established within the TMG's Bureau of Industrial and Labor Affairs in April 2023—the "Encouragement for Working Women Division." The division is planning to implement initiatives that support women in various positions, from executive and managerial to part-time roles. Deputy Director General of the Bureau Matsumoto Akiko elaborates, "Our first goal is to focus on initiatives that will increase the number of women in managerial positions within companies."

Progress is also being made within the TMG in terms of women's empowerment. According to the 2022 edition of the "Progress for Realizing a Gender-Equal Society and Promoting Women-Related Policies in Local Governments" report by the Cabinet Office, the TMG, at 17.1%, has a higher percentage of women working in managerial positions in public services compared to the national average, which is 12.7%.

As Japan strives to encourage male participation in parenting while facilitating women's career continuity during childbirth and child-rearing, the rate of paternity-leave uptake among male employees at the TMG stands at 42.5%, which is higher than the national public servants' rate of 34.0% and the private sector rate of 14.0% (2021).

Since 2019, the TMG has been hosting the annual 'Vision Network by Female Governors and Mayors.' Currently, there are only two such female leaders in Japan, Governor Yoshimura Mieko of Yamagata Prefecture and Governor Koike Yuriko of Tokyo. Photo: courtesy of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government

Governor Koike, who attended the "Forbes JAPAN WOMEN AWARD Alumni Party 2023," welcomed the fact that three new female ward mayors were elected within the 23 wards of Tokyo during the unified local elections held in April 2023, and was delighted to hear that the total number had reached a record high of six, equal to 26%. She expressed the TMG's commitment to supporting female entrepreneurs and assisting startup initiatives led by women in the future. The advancement of women's empowerment in Japan seems ready to extend its reach from the nation's capital.

Interview and writing by Imaizumi Aiko
Translation by Amitt