Kathy Matsui, Pioneer of Workplace Diversity in Japan

The fact that Japan has three million more working women than ten years ago is partly due to one of them: Kathy Matsui, an American-Japanese champion of “womanhood”which has recently expanded its fight for diversity.

This 57-year-old influential leader, former analyst and then senior manager of the US bank Goldman Sachs in Japan is a rarity in Japanese business circles, which are still essentially male. The daughter of Japanese immigrants to California, she grew up on the family’s flower farm, who taught her “the value of work”she says in an interview with AFP in Tokyo.

At Goldman Sachs in Japan, she revealed herself by publishing innovative studies on the potential benefits for the Japanese economy from increased participation of women in the labor market and she called “womanhood”a merging of a merging “Women” and “economy” in English.

To his great surprise, his theses were included in the “Abenomics”Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s sweeping economic stimulus package.

“If you can expose the topic of gender diversity in a way that makes economic sense, I think it is” (a tool, ed.) very powerful”believes this businesswoman who only swears by performance and quality indicators, because “What we don’t measure, we can’t manage”.

According to OECD data, the female employment rate in Japan reached 71% in 2020, up from about 61% in 2012. A leap synonymous with economic survival for this country in rapid demographic decline and reluctant to open up more to immigration.

Lots of stubborn inequalities

But much remains to be done. The Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated the magnitude of persistent gender inequality in Japan: “Most women’s jobs are part-time (…) and they are also overrepresented in the service sector, the sector most weakened by the health crisis”notes Kathy Matsui.

At the end of 2020, the Japanese government also delayed its long-standing goal of reaching 30% of women in management positions by a decade, compared to less than 15% currently.

Japan thus languishes in the depths of the World Economic Forum’s annual gender inequality ranking, in which it ranked 120th out of 156 countries assessed in 2021.

Japanese companies should train on their “unconscious biases” and “much more” evaluate their employees on their productivity, “because it is very difficult for women to compete with men in time” of office presence, Kathy Matsui still pleads.

“I often come across women who haven’t been promoted because they just got married. Their male bosses now think they are going to have a child, they call it a risk. And so they take a man instead.”

Kathy Matsui

Moreover, diversity in the workplace is not just a gender issue, she recalls, as it also includes foreigners, sexual minorities, people with disabilities and “cognitive diversity”bring “other ideas” than those with formal university careers.

Avoid “greenwashing”

Kathy Matsui has expanded her reach by co-founding and co-leading MPower Partners since last year, a Tokyo-based venture capital fund that invests in startups committed to respecting environmental, social and governance (ESG)- criteria.

“It seems like a random letter combination, but if you step back and think about the value of ESG criteria, they are really fundamental” for companies, to attract young talent and entice new consumers who are more ethical than their elders, the leader said.

Japan started ESG investing late compared to Europe and the United States, but today it is so “the country that is experiencing the strongest growth in this area”she says.

The mindset and behavior of large companies are changing “is not impossible, but it just takes a long time”she explains to justify her choice to target start-ups, which: “start from scratch”“We don’t care about companies that are just trying to tick boxes” to look pretty, she decides.


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