Honda has added the first woman to its board in its 66-year history by appointing Hideko Kunii, a professor at Shibaura Institute of Technology.
The news is notable both because it is a first and also given that just 7 percent of the company’s Japanese employees and less than one percent of its managers are women.
It is also notable because Japanese companies are some of the worst when it comes to gender diversity. Women make up around 2 percent of board seats at the country’s companies and 1.6 percent of executive roles. Less than one percent of its chief executives are women. Yet women in the country represent nearly half of its college graduates and 45 percent of entry-level professionals.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has made increasing women’s representation in upper level positions — as well as the entire economy — a priority as a way to boost the country’s economy. He set a goal of increasing the share of women in executive roles to more than 30 percent by 2020. He has also promised to create 250,000 more day care openings, extend family leave, and offer companies tax incentives in the hopes of boosting women’s employment, as Japanese mothers currently make up just a third of its labor force. If women’s employment level were raised to the same as men’s, its economy could grow by as much as 15 percent.
Its companies could similarly benefit from increased diversity in leadership. Study after study after study after study after study after study after study have found that boards or executive teams with women outperform those that are male-only.
While Abe’s goal may be conveying to companies like Honda that diversity is important, he might have to go further for real change. Quota requirements in Europe have meant that the area has seen the fastest increase in diversity among board members since 2009. In the United States, by contrast, where companies are merely asked to disclose how they take diversity of any sort into account and most don’t even comply, progress in increasing women on boards has stalled for eight years and the share of female executives hasn’t grown in four. Voluntary efforts in Sweden have been better but lawmakers are still frustrated with the rate of progress and may switch to a quota system.