Photo/Illutration Stockholders enter a meeting venue in June 2019. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

June provides a stark moment of truth for charting the progress--or lack thereof--of Japanese businesswomen toward breaking the glass ceiling.

For June is the month when many companies in the nation convene their annual stockholders meetings and announce their new board members. 

This year, numerous companies in Japan’s central Tokai region appear set to appoint more women to their board of directors.

But in many cases, companies appoint outside talent to board member posts, a practice that highlights their lack of commitment to developing and securing diverse human resources.

At its June 19 stockholder meeting, Juroku Bank Ltd., headquartered in Gifu, is expected to propose the appointment of Satoko Ito, 52, a visiting professor at the Graduate Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies, as an external board member.

If approved, Ito will be the bank's first female board member.

A Juroku Bank representative said Ito’s career as a broadcaster would be an asset for the bank's management and expected that she would provide valuable advice.

In the spring, the bank for the first time appointed a female employee to a department chief position at its headquarters.

The number of women in management positions at the bank, such as branch manager, is double today that of six years ago when the bank pledged to create more opportunities for female employees.

But the bank has admitted it will still take time to appoint a female career banker as a board member.

Ogaki Kyoritsu Bank Ltd., headquartered in Ogaki, Gifu Prefecture, has decided to appoint Yuko Moriguchi, 65, a professional golfer, as an external board member.

“We expect her to provide (the bank) with the wisdom, experience and viewpoints unique to a woman", Toshiyuki Sakai, the bank's president, said at a news conference in May.

The Bank of Nagoya Ltd. said it will appoint Hisako Munekata, 67, a professor at Kinjo Gakuin University, as an external board member this month, while Toho Gas Co. appointed Michiyo Hamada, 72, a professor emeritus at Nagoya University.

In recent years, an increasing number of major Tokai region companies have appointed women to their boards.

In 2018, Toyota Motor Corp. appointed Teiko Kudo, 56, from Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corp., as an external board member.

In 2019, Denso Corp. appointed Yuko Mitsuya, 61, a former volleyball player and Olympian, as an external board member.

Other women appointed as external board member included Mayumi Matsumoto, 57, a visiting professor at the University of Tokyo, at Toyoda Gosei Co., and Aya Shirai, 60, a former mayor of Amagasaki, Hyogo Prefecture, at Brother Industries Ltd.

Noritake Co. also promoted employee Yuko Fuma, 56, to its board.


As of the end of July 2019, women accounted for 10 percent of those sitting on boards of the 100 major companies listed on the first section of the Tokyo Stock Exchange, according to a survey by 30% Club Japan, an organization that promotes gender balance in businesses.

The figure was up 2.4 points from 2018, indicating that “many business owners in Japan believe diversity is a key to a company’s growth,” 30% Club said.

At the same time, many companies have been under pressure from outside to appoint more women to their boards.

The Tokyo Stock Exchange in 2018 revised its “corporate governance codes” for publicly traded companies to urge companies to make their board members “diverse in terms of gender and internationalism.”

Since 2018, U.S.-based asset management company State Street Corp. has opposed every proposed appointment of a top executive at a Japanese company that ranks high in total market value that has no female board member.

In some cases, stockholders have pressured companies that do not have a female board member to justify their reluctance to appoint one.

Central Japan Railway Co. (JR Tokai) has never appointed a woman to its board or an executive position since being established in 1987.

The company is expected to propose to appoint 16 board members, all male, at a June 23 stockholders meeting.

Upon announcing the nominees' names, the company received inquiries from stockholders, asking for an explanation why no woman was on the list.

In response, JR Tokai released a statement in late May, that said the company “judges a candidate’s ability, wisdom and experience as a whole and selects the most qualified person, regardless of gender, age and nationality.”

When the company was founded, the Labor Standards Law prohibited women from working late at night, in principle.

Because of that, JR Tokai limited the number of women it hired until the law was revised in 1997.

As of the end of fiscal 2019, 11 percent of its employees were women, with 114 women in management positions, JR Tokai said.

However, the company also said that part of the reason it hasn't appointed a woman to its board is due to a lack of candidates who are senior enough in age.

The Central Japan Economic Federation, or Chukeiren, has also never appointed a woman to its board. Its members consist of top executives of large Tokai region companies.

“It is difficult to (promote the appointment of women) and increase the number in a single step,” Akihisa Mizuno, who heads the federation, said at a news conference on June 2.

“But diversity is important, and I perceive the need to do so,” said Mizuno, a former president of Chubu Electric Power Co., who currently is an executive adviser of the company.

(This article was written by Eitaro Takeyama and Sho Hatsumi.)