We often hear Japan described as a ‘traditional’ society. That description certainly conjures up images of geisha walking down the streets and other well-worn tropes. That isn’t what you see in Japan (well, most of the time, anyway). But if we consider a traditional society to be one that values continuity, then Japan certainly fits that model. In general, the Japanese place high value on the maintenance of their ways of doing things. Perhaps in no area is this more evident than in the role of women in the workforce.
Our expert team of consumer insights and UX researchers operating in Japan has perhaps the best seat in the house to witness these issues, sensing the problems for women emerge through the myriad of market research projects we carry out. Here we share with you six charts that illustrate the unique challenges women are facing in Japan. We also comment on some of these negative repercussions but also provide thoughts on a positive way forward for the women themselves, the brands who serve them and Japanese society itself.
The Japanese Workforce Gender Gap
To get a sense of the historical context, this first chart demonstrates the number of people in the Japanese workforce by gender over more than 20 years. Since the year 2000, the number of men has been steadily falling, while at the same time, the number of women has been rising. In fact, if we compare more recent data, from August 2019 to Jan 2023, there has been more than a 700,000-person narrowing of the gender gap!
In a striking revelation that may astonish those whose perceptions of Japanese women’s societal roles were formed over two decades ago, the labor force participation rate of women in Japan not only surpassed that of the United States around 2010 but has continued to surge ahead. This ever-widening gap highlights a dramatic shift in Japan’s workforce dynamics, as the number of women participating in the labor force exceeded 80% in 2021. Consequently, Japan now boasts a remarkable 6.7% lead over the US in female labor force participation as of 2021, underscoring the nation’s strides in integrating women into the workforce.
Women in Management
In 2022, women globally have never been as well penetrated into management roles, with now almost a third of women in senior management. But this is far from the case in Japan’s share of those employed who are managers, and women at under 15% is the lowest, by far.
Despite the passage of time and the increasing prominence of “Womenomics” as a central government talking point, the stark reality remains that the number of female executives in Japan has experienced no significant growth since 2013. In a landscape where progress has been widely anticipated, it is disheartening to see that the presence of women in management positions has remained stubbornly static over the past decade. This sobering fact underscores the need for more than just rhetoric; it calls for tangible actions and policies that will genuinely empower women to break through the glass ceiling and assume leadership roles in Japan’s corporate world.
Regrettably, over the past decade, the landscape of non-regular employment for women in Japan has remained disappointingly stagnant. The nation’s entrenched two-track employment system, which segregates the workforce into permanent employees and part-time workers or contractors, perpetuates a glaring gender disparity. Men continue to be favored by a staggering ratio of 2 to 1, leaving women struggling to bridge the gap in an employment structure that remains stubbornly resistant to change.
Although there have never been more women working in Japan, overall, the facts point to very little progress in the status of women in the workplace, which would demonstrate a measurable appreciation for their significant contributions.
What the Future Holds
In the face of Japan’s rapidly evolving demographic landscape, characterized by a highly compressed working-age population and stringent immigration policies, the pivotal role of women in the workforce is being thrust into the spotlight. This pressing need for change presents a myriad of lucrative opportunities for forward-thinking international businesses, particularly those specializing in management and HR consulting.
As Japan is forced to reevaluate the importance of women’s roles in society, these companies have the chance to establish themselves as indispensable partners in fostering a more diverse and inclusive workplace. By offering innovative solutions that empower women to lead fulfilling and effective lives, these businesses can contribute to breaking down barriers and creating a more equitable future.
Furthermore, as women’s incomes continue to rise due to their growing importance in the workforce, the premium and experiential categories are poised for substantial growth. This opens up exciting possibilities for companies that cater to these segments, as they can capitalize on the increasing demand for quality, convenience and experience-driven products and services.
In essence, the ongoing shifts in Japan’s demographics and the evolving role of women in the workforce present a unique and valuable opportunity for international businesses to help shape the future of the Japanese economy. While the current situation may look bleak, logic dictates this pressure will eventually provide women with greater economic power in the years to come.
By providing cutting-edge solutions in management, HR consulting, and diversity, these companies can not only bolster their own growth but also contribute to the betterment of society as a whole. The convergence of these factors creates a fertile ground for enterprises that are adaptable, innovative, and committed to fostering a brighter future for all, and our expert UX research team will be here for it all.
This study was provided to the public at no cost by the expert team of CarterJMRN. This, and other socially important issues, require proper research to uncover real needs, provide proper benchmarking and inspire people to make positive changes in our society. This study on women in the workforce is just a small indication of the significant untapped potential of this unique market.
CarterJMRN provides similar work for brands and organizations ready to significantly get an edge on the competition in the Japanese market. For businesses to succeed in Japan, they cannot apply the same rules, processes or launch sequences that work in other geographies. This unique culture requires a nuanced approach to gathering market research and business intelligence.
We’d love to help you unmask the Japanese market.