Photo/Illutration Senior members from both Rengo and Keidanren attend a meeting to exchange opinions about the spring labor negotiations in February 2019 in Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

With the central government seeking to increase the number of women in leadership positions, the nation's labor and management organizations are rushing to do their part, but still lagging behind.

Japan's largest labor organization, Rengo (Japanese Trade Union Confederation), is looking to appoint four women to vice president posts within two years. Currently, there is only one woman among the confederation's 13 vice presidents.

Japan's most powerful business lobby, Keidanren (Japan Business Federation), replaced one of its male vice chairs with a female counterpart for the first time in early June.

The moves marked an important step forward, but there remains a long way to go to realize gender equality for both employees and employers.

In Rengo, the 13 vice presidents attend executive meetings to discuss significant topics.

Twelve of the vice presidents currently are men who serve as the heads of Rengo’s major member industrial unions. Tomoko Yoshino, who is from the Japanese Association of Metal, Machinery and Manufacturing Workers, is the only female vice president.

While women accounted for 27 percent of unionists in Rengo in 1991 shortly after its founding, the female ratio had risen to 36 percent by May last year.

Though many female enterprise union leaders have emerged in Rengo, no women have become its president or general secretary--the virtual second-ranking post of the trade union confederation--so far.

For that reason, Rengo is working to raise the number of female executives by setting the goal of designating four vice president seats for women by 2023.

According to insiders, about 50 member industrial unions will be split into four groups so that each will nominate one woman for the position. Some industrial unions have reportedly begun efforts to select candidates.

The National Confederation of Trade Unions (Zenroren), another federation of labor unions, selected Masako Obata as its chair in July last year. It marked the first time for a woman to hold the top post in Zenroren.

When asked about the possibility of women holding top positions in Rengo, a source from a Rengo’s member industrial union said it will be “difficult 10 years from now for a female member to hold the position of president or general secretary.”

The reason is that only those who have served as heads of not only enterprise unions but also upper industrial unions are tacitly considered to be eligible for those posts.

The employers’ organizations are also working toward gender equality.

Keidanren appointed Tomoko Namba, founder and executive chairwoman of leading information technology provider DeNA Co., as its first female vice chair on June 1. Most of Keidanren’s executives are men who have long careers in large corporations.

Whereas four female vice chairs of its board of councilors, including two active members, have offered advice for the Keidanren chairman, no female officials had served as Keidanren’s chair or vice chair.

Namba’s promotion was realized through the efforts of Hiroaki Nakanishi, executive chairman of Hitachi Ltd., who stepped down as Keidanren’s chair on June 1, and others.

Given that Keidanren is calling on its member corporations to share the goal of increasing the female executive percentage to “at least 30 percent by 2030,” it can be said that the diversity improvement within Keidanren has only just begun.

Keizai Doyukai (Japan Association of Corporate Executives) in April chose Keiko Tashiro, a deputy president of Daiwa Securities Group Inc., as a new vice chair. That means the association currently has three female vice chairs.

Although Keizai Doyukai, which comprises individual company executives instead of corporations, has recently been actively seeking to appoint more women, no more than four, or 20 percent, of its 20 directors are women.

We are moving toward diversity and inclusion but few female members have participated yet,” admitted Kengo Sakurada, chairman of Keizai Doyukai.

(This article was written by Hideaki Sato and Hiroaki Kimura.)