How can we be sure that companies are employing and promoting women based on experience and genuine desire for change, and not just to fill a diversity quota? Training and empowering younger female employees is a sure-fire way to ensure that they will secure a seat in the executive suite.

     On June 30, 2022, Karin Wellbrock, an executive coach and consultant at Kay Group, welcomed guests and viewers to the first of a series of three webinars. These webinars look to discuss and investigate the gender gap in the Japanese workforce and executive suites, and how Kay Group believes we can champion change.

    Gender Gap Compared

    Karin shared some statistics from the Gender Equality Indexes from 2021, where it was revealed that out of 156 countries, Japan Ranked 120 in the WEF Gender Equality Index, 147 in the Political Empowerment Index, and 117 in the Economic Opportunity Index.

    “At the current speed, closing these gaps may take another 130­–140 years to close,” she explained. Internationally, 65% of female CEOs admitted that becoming a CEO only became an option to them when a mentor or boss encouraged them to do so. 

    Karin then explained that closing this gap and mending the problem comes with challenges:

    • There are too few candidates willing to put themselves forward
    • A lack of key experiences
    • Low self-confidence and high self-doubt

    The cultural context in Japan is also very important to note, with hierarchy holding a lot of weight in Japanese companies, as well as a very clear divide between senior and junior roles. Additionally, in Japan, there are ideals of femininity and the role of women within the household. Many women put their careers on the back burner or on hold to raise children, while their husbands focus on their career. Having children and having a career are not mutually exclusive, and many other countries have assimilated to this mindset, however Japan are notoriously slow to catch up. 

    Inclusive Leader-by-Design

    So, after looking at the gender gap, and the struggles that come with it, how can these things change? Karin believes that it comes from the CEOs or heads of the organizations, describing them as “the most critical role for DEI in Japan.”


    As successful DEI initiatives take the local and organizational circumstances into considerations, the CEOs have the power to shape and drive the local discussion. They can build and use a personal leadership brand centered around diversity, inclusion and equity will be the most affective course of change. Karin explained that these local initiatives will vary depending on the seniority of the CEO. Currently, she finds more seasoned male CEOs than seasoned female CEOs in country head roles, whereas the gender ratio for first time CEOs is more equal. The more seasoned and experienced a CEO, the more they may use DEI as their personal legacy, whereas first time CEOs may focus more on establishing themselves.

    To gain traction of DEI efforts and to build strong executive benches, Karin suggested that CEOs make DEI their priority and own the topic. They can achieve transformation by building trust, integrating diverse perspectives, optimizing talent, and Karin further explained that being inclusive comes from an adaptive mindset. CEOs should role model inclusive leadership and have their leadership teams onboard. The leadership team should speak in one voice about their DEI efforts, practice inclusive leadership behaviors, and step up to become champions and sponsors for leadership talent.

    By providing a direction of the organization’s DEI efforts and transparency on the expectations of current and future leaders, CEOs not only have the opportunity to accelerate the identification and targeted development of candidates, but can build capabilities the organization will need in the future.  

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