Promoting more women in top executive positions in Japan, a country where only 1 in 70 management positions is held by women, can boost change and growth in Japan’s “salaryman monoculture”, says Yukako Uchinaga, chief executive officer of Berlitz Corp., which operates 565 learning centers worldwide.
Uchinaga, 65, remembers how she used to hide in the ladies’ room every day at 8 p.m. until an inspector was checking that all women employees had gone home, only to return to her office and work more hours. At that time, forty years ago, she was systems engineer at IBM and could not agree with the labor law that put a limit on women’s overtime at maximum two hours a day.
“It was unfair, like being in a 100- meter race with my hands and feet tied while all my male colleagues ran freely,” she says.
The law has changed in the meantime, but updating mentalities takes longer.
“Diversity is the key initiative needed in Japan,” she says. “Making better use of Japan’s female talents, who are educated and trained in the same way as men, should be the first step to promoting diversity.”
Uchinaga is a member of the board at Benesse (the Japanese owner of Berlitz) and Sony Corp. and an external auditor at Sompo Japan Insurance Inc. She is also chairman of the Japan Women’s Innovative Network, a Tokyo-based nonprofit group that helps women promote in their corporate roles.