Editor’s note: The United Nations adopted 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) in 2015 and urged all its member countries to make efforts to achieve them by 2030.

The 17 include “no poverty,” “zero hunger,” “good health and well-being," “quality education,” “gender equality” and “climate action.”

But how should companies introduce those goals in their businesses?

The Asahi Shimbun interviewed 10 top executives of companies belonging to the Global Compact Network Japan (GCNJ), which mainly consists of firms supporting SDGs.

The following interview with Ayako Sonoda, president of sustainability consulting company Cre-en Inc., is the fifth in the series.

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It is well known that when people do their shopping, women hold the right to decide in many instances. That’s why it is indispensable for companies to be aware of women in the development of products. Existence of women who play active roles in this field is not special anymore.

I’m also feeling that companies are placing growing importance on perspectives for gender equality in various divisions. When I founded a marketing company centering on women 30 years ago, I was looked at curiously only on the grounds that its operator was a woman. But now the circumstances have greatly changed.

However, the reality that the overwhelming majority of people in the decision-making positions of big companies are men is unchanged. It’s like a bedrock.

Scene where men, who are “elite,” can’t express objections to top executives who set exorbitant goals and take the executives’ intentions into account excessively are not rare.

Such a trend was especially strong in a company that was hit by a series of scandals. I couldn’t bear to see scenes where employees who had rich personalities were not able to display their abilities and were crushed under heavy pressure.

For companies to continue to grow, it is necessary to review systems that are not suitable for the times. To reset wrong customs, the existence of women who have had little involvement in them is indispensable. There will be firms that revive themselves by promoting several women to management positions.

The Law on Promotion of Women’s Participation and Advancement in the Workplace, which took effect in 2016, made it a duty for companies to work out action plans for the promotion of women. Mainly because of that, the creation of systems for that purpose has made progress.

In an IT service company that I’m working for as an outside director, three of the 14 directors and auditors are women. The number of companies that have female directors will also increase in the future.

What we must not forget is innovative changes in awareness.

In Japan, the ratio of women in managerial positions is low. In addition, the ratio of women who say that they want to aim for those positions is also low.

It is partly attributable to the fact that many mothers are facing difficulties in enrolling their children in nursery centers due to the shortage of those facilities. However, we can’t ignore the existence of unconscious bias concerning training and evaluation methods.

A preconceived notion that it is difficult to assign important jobs to women whose working hours are shortened due to child-rearing is strong. Though I’m engaged in SDGs, I was thinking, “I feel guilty if I have women who have just married go to a graduate school to obtain an MBA.”

When I realized that, I was startled. Do I have the same way of thinking toward men? I realize the difficulties and importance of awareness reform.

Investors are also looking at efforts for gender equality. The Government Pension Investment Fund (GPIF), which is a public pension fund investor, is selecting companies in which women are playing active roles and making investments in them.

The investment shows the fund’s assessment that organizations that have women’s participation and diversity can produce innovations and achieve good business results.

(This article is based on an interview by Asahi Shimbun Staff Writer Hiroyuki Komuro.)

FEMALE DIRECTORS’ RATIO AT 3.7 PERCENT

The Fourth Basic Plan for Gender Equality, compiled by the government in 2015, set a goal of raising the ratio of female directors at listed companies to 10 percent by 2020. The ratio is rising year by year but still stood at only 3.7 percent as of 2017.

In June this year, the Tokyo Stock Exchange and the Financial Services Agency revised the Corporate Governance Code for listed companies. As for the makeup of directors, they added a description that they are seeking diversity, including the fields of gender and internationality. They also urged listed companies to tackle the issue on their own initiatives.