May 2014 FEW Meeting Recap: What Does Abenomics Offer Women Regardless of Nationality?

Archive blog post header image with old card catalog in background

Recap: “What Does Abenomics Offer Women Regardless of Nationality?”
FEW Meeting May 15th, 2014

Speaker: Professor Yoko Ishikura

By Christina Hanazawa-Gallagher, FEW Vice President

If you could start again, would you come to Japan to work?

Those who answered ‘yes’ to Professor Ishikura’s opening question had many positives to say. They were excited by the chance to renegotiate a cultural space, the freedom and opportunities they have to do things differently, and the chance to learn about new things. Others enjoy the social networks in Japan – ‘I’ve never answered a job ad in my whole career here!’ and for a few Japan was the best place for their particular specialism. Those saying ‘no’ cited a lack of work-life balance, low expectations and lack of role models for female entrepreneurs, and the glass ceiling. Bureaucracy and an insistence on doing things in a certain way were said to stifle creativity.

What does Abenomics need to address?

The third arrow of Abenomics is structural change and breaking up rigid labour practices. It is aimed partly at least to offer women more challenges in the workplace. By 2020, the target is 30% of women in positions of power in government, businesses, and executive boards. However, Professor Ishikura urged caution in this approach. There is a feeling that it is unfashionable to talk about getting women into more senior positions and that there may be a backlash.

The discussions of the Davos Expo forum for women identified problems ranging from corporate practices that focus on hours worked rather than output, to problems individuals have with standing up for rights, such as 88% of men refraining from making use of their right to parental leave. The solutions to these problems include developing new workplace practices, changing evaluation methods, and encouraging people to look at role models for inspiration.

Professor Ishikura is critical of tinkering with the existing structures though, asserting ‘the rule breakers cannot be the rule makers’ and feels it is time for a new, dynamic paradigm for Japan. She advocated getting people from different fields and backgrounds to work with each other to foster diversity, create a new energy in the workplace, and allow people to flourish by getting them out of their comfort zone. Throughout this discussion, she focussed more on changing the whole business environment rather than policies and practices specifically aimed at women.

What can foreigners in Japan offer the country?

First, develop skills and commit to growing in our careers. Second, share information and support others. Women need to support each other (two of FEW’s key values!). Third, it is crucial to speak up. Professor Ishikura noted that the Japanese have things they want to say, but throughout much of their education are never asked for their opinion. Foreigners in Japan can offer a different perspective. This can be energizing and enlightening.

What can the different generations of Japanese offer the country?

There is also a massive gap between the old and the new generation in Japan. The new generation is more reaching out, curious, and connected to the world; the old generation tends no to be invested in change. The people investigating what happened at Fukushima should be those who have more of their life ahead of them than behind them. While the old generation understand and revere the hard work that goes into reinvention and establishing an economy; the young are unaware of it. There needs to be more conversations between different groups of society.

If you don’t say anything, you’ll never know how to say it.

Professor Ishikura is involved in working with organisations in Japan that share her vision of open and diverse leaders who are not afraid to speak up. The Davos Experience aims to give young people a chance to polish their communication skills in small group discussions. More information is available at

Speaker: Yoko Ishikura
YokoIshikura-300x300Professor Yoko Ishikura currently serves as an independent consultant in the area of global strategy and global talent. She is a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Education and Skills. Professor Ishikura was a manager at McKinsey & Company Inc., a professor at the School of International Politics, Economics and Business at Aoyama Gakuin University (Japan), a professor at the Graduate School of International Corporate Strategy at Hitotsubashi University (Japan) and a professor at the Graduate School of Media Design at Keio University (Japan).

She has also served as a non-executive director for Japanese, US and UK companies, as well as vice president of the Science Council of Japan. Professor Ishikura received a Bachelor of Arts from Sophia University in Tokyo, Japan, a Master of Business Administration from the University of Virginia Darden School of Business (USA) and a Doctor of Business Administration from Harvard Business School (USA).

She also has run various workshops for international clients and recently for young global leaders including Global Agenda Seminar Series, Davos Experience in Tokyo and Leadership seminars.
Twitter: @yokoishikura