Civic Innovation in Japan

On Friday, March 6th, I had the opportunity to attend the World Affairs Council's Ambassador Luncheon and Panel Discussion, featuring a keynote by the Honorable Yasuo Saito, Former Ambassador of Japan (to Saudi Arabia, Russia, and France). The keynote was followed by a panel discussion, "Walk in US, Talk on Japan," which is an outreach program of the Japanese government and featured a diverse set of panelists:

  • Hiroshi Tsukamoto, Former Deputy Director General for the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry
  • Tetsuo Mamada, former president of Mitsui Bussan Steel Trade Company Ltd
  • Michiko Iwanami, think-tank researcher, conducting fact-finding on areas to support business commercialization in Japan and overseas
  • Mio Iwai, university student, with experience in student group activities, international conferences, and studying abroad in the Netherlands

Between the keynote and the panelists' remarks, I was impressed by how frankly everyone discussed the various challenges that Japan's economy and society has faced in the past 15 years: struggling with deflation, low participation by women in the workforce, and an aging population. Each speaker discussed deliberate measures that Japan is taking to combat those challenges. Mr. Saito discussed the economic policies enacted by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (called "Abe-nomics"), which involve the "three arrows" of  fiscal stimulus, monetary easing and structural reforms. I was particularly interested in Michiko Iwanami's remarks, which were focused on participation of women in the workforce and upper management:

Due to a combination of belief in traditional gender roles and a lack of supporting family services such as child care, women make up 42% of the workforce in Japan but only 10% of managers (comparatively 43% of managers in the US are women and in Germany, 38% are women). Michiko spoke about the importance of better support for women's upward mobility in their careers: better support by male colleagues, increased access to childcare, and working hours that support better work-family balance. These problems are of course not unique to Japan, and provided good food for thought on our own efforts to increase diversity in the workforce and management here in the US. 

Big thanks to the World Affairs Council for giving me the opportunity to attend!