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Bringing female perspectives in the boardroom – Challenges in Japan

By Yoriko Goto - January 24, 2013

Dttl_YorikoGoto_DeloitteJapan_300x200I have the honor to attend the World Economic Forum in Davos as one of the five representatives from Deloitte this again year. Deloitte LLP, the U.S. member firm, was the first professional firm that launched an initiative for the retention and advancement of women in the United States. Started in 1993, the Women’s Initiative changed the firm culture to retain and advance female professionals with leaders’ solid commitment.

Within 20 years, the U.S. firm achieved quite a number of goals: closing the gender gap in retention and promotion (female partner ratio from 7% to 23% and female board member from 1% to 30%). This was, of course, a turbulent journey, but does prove that we can make it happen if we believe in it.

According to Barbara Adachi, National Managing Director, Human Capital, Deloitte Consulting LLP; the progress for the advancement of women has been driven by “Sponsorship”. A sponsor, in this context, ”advocates for an individual and undertakes responsibilities for his/her career growth and development.” While sponsorship may have been unconsciously embedded in the promotion for men, women need to purposefully receive sponsorship for enhancing their visibility and positions in the organization. However, does “sponsorship” really work in Japan?

This was one of the main topics for our Diversity Roundtable where Barbara (former U.S. Women’s Initiative leader) and I (first female board member in the Japanese firm) shared our experiences on the path to the boardroom with participants (mostly female) from various Japanese companies last September. Based upon their reaction and comments, implementing sponsorship seems to be a big challenge for Japanese companies. It is also consistent with the data provided by the Global Gender Gap Report 2012 by WEF. Shockingly, Japan ranked 101 out of 135 countries for an overall score, a drop of three places from last year; and is ranked below average for economic participation, opportunities, and political empowerment. The “glass ceiling” may not be the only barrier and there appears to be something solidly blocking the path of women to top leadership positions in Japan.

How can we improve the situation in Japan? I have a strong belief that having women in leadership positions and the boardroom would lead to a huge momentum for business development under this uncertain and ever-changing environment. Management decision-making will reflect various values if the board members include female perspectives, which, in effect, will lead to governance transparency. Globalization is the key challenge for Japanese companies in their further business development. In fact, diverse perspectives in management decision-making and governance transparency are crucial for companies to become truly global. Instead of giving up on challenges, we may need to start thinking about what we can do to make this work by focusing on its benefits.

What I can do is to contribute to developing action plans as a member of WEF Japan Gender Parity Task Force. In a few years, I would really like to see the progress in the ranking of Japan to be above the average.


Dttl_yorikogoto_56x56Yoriko Goto currently serves as Managing Partner, Financial Services Industry, and Member of the Board for Deloitte Japan. She has 30 years' experience in professional services, including 21 years in Tokyo and 9 years in New York, focusing on financial institutions. In addition to her member firm role, Yoriko is also a member of the Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited (DTTL) Board for Global Financial Services Industry.

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