Speech by Michelle Bachelet at Japan Association of Corporate Executives


Speech by UN Women Executive Director, Michelle Bachelet at Keizai Doyukai- Japan Association of Corporate Executives. Tokyo, Japan, 12 November 2012.

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Good afternoon.

Thank you to Keizai Doyukai and to Ms. Sakie Fukushima, Chair of the Committee on Development and Utilization of Human Resources, for this opportunity to meet personally with the eminent global business leaders of Japan.

I also thank Ms. Kimie Iwata, long-time advocate for gender equality and member of the UN Women Japan National Committee, for your support.

We are living in trying economic times. But all of us here agree: there is something we can do. By strengthening women's economic role, we can make the recovery faster, deeper, and fairer. UN Women is committed to removing the barriers that limit women's economic participation. The private sector is essential to making this a reality.

Keizai Doyukai is founded on the premise that business leaders can address the most pressing issues of the day and find solutions that benefit all Japanese citizens. You are committed to looking forward and taking concrete steps to secure the future of the Japanese economy.

And there is real hope to found in a future Japanese economy in which women are full and equal contributors to sustained economic growth, and to a productive and prosperous Japanese society.

As you are all aware, a number of studies, including the most recent White Paper by the IMF, single out Japan as one of the countries that stands to gain the most from closing the gender gap in its economy.

I would like to discuss a few areas where you, as leaders in the business community, can contribute to this future and to gender equality in every aspect of society.

Women's participation in the global work force has been on the rise. Today, 4 out of 10 workers worldwide are women. But a number of obstacles and disadvantages persist that prevent them from exercising their full economic potential. They are all problems experienced to varying degrees in Japan, where the female labor participation rate is low among OECD countries.

Now, more than ever, it is urgent that Japan's leaders look to all available resources to revitalize the economy. It is well-known that Japan faces a demographic challenge of an aging population and a rapidly shrinking labor force.

Multiple studies show that increasing women's labor participation has great potential for Japanese economic growth. A survey by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications shows that there are 3.4 million women in Japan willing to work, but who are not currently employed. If these women were in the labor force, Japan's GDP growth would increase by 1.5 percent.

Studies by Goldman Sachs, the OECD and the IMF all indicate that closing the gender gap in employment could significantly increase Japan's productivity and growth. Some projections suggest that these increases in women's labor participation could single-handedly rescue the Japanese economy.

If more Japanese women are entering the economy, the challenge is to keep them there. The work-life balance is a struggle for women in nearly every country around the world, and the evidence shows the scope of the problem in Japan: over 60 percent of Japanese women leave the workforce after their first child. After reaching childbearing age, Japanese women spend between up to eight times longer in unpaid work as in paid work, leaving little time for a career.

I would like to point out an insight from the Chairman of Keizai Doyukai, Mr. Hasegawa. He pointed out the need for a more flexible work culture- such as one that places less emphasis on overtime work- so that young mothers can stay in their jobs and continue on their career path. Companies can't change culture overnight, but they can certainly exert their influence by improving their parental leave policies and showing greater flexibility towards their employees.

It is crucial that we take into account how both policy and attitude changes can change the outlook for new parents, so that entering parenthood is no longer equated with exiting the work force.

The potential for growth and change is particularly great in the business sector, where women are underrepresented, and even fewer have made it into senior management and board positions. In Japan, women make up just 5 percent of senior management positions, making it difficult to bring about fundamental change in corporate culture.

We applaud Keizai Doyukai for recognizing and embracing this challenge by creating its own action plan to appoint female managers and executives, with a target rate of 30 percent or more by 2020.

Your commitment sets the example for all businesses in Japan to actively support women to overcome systemic barriers and move up the career ladder. Women at the top also serve as role models for women just entering the work force to advance their careers- and stay in them.

Mr. Hasegawa's firm, Takeda Pharmaceuticals, has chosen to lead by example, announcing a target to promote women based on merit to management positions: from 3 percent in 2013; 5 percent in 2015; and 30 percent in 2020.

UN Women also recognizes the important role the business sector plays in changing the dynamic of high-level management and executive positions. That's why we've teamed up with the UN Global Compact for the Women's Empowerment Principles.

These Principles offer practical steps for businesses to empower women in the workplace, market, and community. Like the Keizai Doyukai plan, Principle 2 sets a 30 percent threshold for women's participation in decision-making and governance at all levels.

I am pleased to report that so many companies in Japan have already shown support for the Women's Empowerment Principles. Of the 450 chief executives around the world who have committed to women's empowerment and gender equality by signing the CEO Statement of Support, 33 percent are Japanese. It is the largest group of CEOs from a single country to date.

The seven Women's Empowerment Principles are based on input from businesses around the world. They encourage businesses to set company-wide goals and targets with high-level support and to share updates on their progress with the public and with other companies.

They include ensuring equal pay and benefits to all women and men employees, including more flexible work options; creating a safe environment and a zero-tolerance policy towards all forms of violence in the workplace; and investing in training and capacity-building for women employees to advance within the company.

I commend all of you who have already signed on, and call on those of you who have not yet signed to do so. We look forward to working with you to advance these Principles.

The Gender Equality Bureau in the Cabinet Office has taken a great step by creating a Women's Empowerment Principles promotion team. It is very encouraging that the Bureau stands so strongly behind this initiative. UN Women is eager to work with them to make sure all companies take full advantage of the resources at hand.

The revitalization of the Japanese economy and the full recovery of society are on the horizon. It is a privilege for me to be able to witness how prevalent gender equality- especially women's participation as major players and decision makers in the economy- has become in the vision to move Japan forward.

This is a vision shared in the Third Basic Plan for Gender Equality, passed in 2010, in the strategy of Keizai Doyukai, and in the hearts and minds of the many individuals I will meet with during my time in Japan.

I thank all of you in the Keizai Doyukai for being champions of gender equality and women's empowerment in Japanese society, and for your responsible leadership on behalf of all Japanese people. UN Women looks forward to cooperating closely with you as you pursue the concrete goals you have set to chart a new course in Japanese business leadership. I thank you, and I thank you for your leadership for women and equality.