FOR RELEASE on November 10, 2009


Tokyo – Ann Sado Washington, D.C. – Larry Grady
      Tel:  81-90-9814-1126 Tel: 1-202-415-8396


Minimal progress seen since 1998

TOKYO – November 10, 2009 – A new report from Corporate Women Directors International (CWDI), a U.S.-based nonprofit, reveals that Japan’s top companies continue to lag well behind those in other parts of the world in appointing women to their Boards of Directors.  Only 17 seats on the Boards of Directors of Japan’s top 100 companies are occupied by women or a mere 1.4% of the 1,198 board positions in these pace-setting companies. 

These numbers rank Japan well below all the industrialized economies. In an overall comparison among 35 countries for which data is available on women directors, Japan places near the bottom – below Jordan (2%), Oman (2.3%), Kuwait (2.7%) and two European countries – Italy (2.1%) and Portugal (3%).  Topping the list of countries with the highest percentage of women directors are the Nordic countries led by Norway with 44%.  The U.S. (15.2%), South Africa (14.6%) and the U.K. (11.7%) do not do as well in appointing women to corporate boards as the companies in the Nordic region. 

In Japan, just 16 of the companies in the top 100 have at least one woman board director, leaving 84% of the boards as all-male bastions.  While this number of companies with women board directors is still very low, it does mark a significant increase from CWDI’s first study of Japan’s Women Board Directors in 1998.  At that time, only two of the 100 largest companies had women on their boards.   

One of the reasons Japan’s percentage remains so low is due to the structure of the boards, according to CWDI Co-Chair Irene Natividad.  The majority of board seats still go to senior management and, as women are mostly absent at this level, there are few women directors as a result, she explains.    The report shows that only one of the 17 board positions held by women is an “inside” directorship – Kimie Iwata, Shiseido’s Executive Vice President who is also on the company’s board.  The others are held by “outside” (non-management) directors.

Sony’s Two Women Board Directors

Sakie Fukushima

Chairman, Korn Ferry International/Japan


Yukako Uchinaga

CEO, Berlitz International and

Vice Chair, Benesse Corporation

Among the 20 largest companies in the country, only one company – Sony – has a woman board director.  Sony is also the only company among the 100 largest in Japan with two women on its board.  Companies without women board directors include companies known throughout the world, including Toyota Motor, NTT, Honda, Canon, Nissan, Fuji Photo, All Nippon Airways, Sharp, and Toshiba, among others. 

 “The current economic crisis is moving countries from the U.S. to the U.K. to South Africa to set new rules and to change the way business is done, as well as to look for new economic leaders -- from CEOs to board directors -- to prevent the recurrence of this crisis.  Japan, Inc, with its reach to global consumers, suppliers and employees, may need to do the same in order to remain competitive” states CWDI Chair Irene Natividad.

 Prescriptions for Change

She adds:  Japan can no longer afford not to utilize its biggest asset – its women – especially at a time of steeply decreasing workforce.”  Natividad cites a 2003 Labor Ministry report which indicated that Japan’s economy lost 0.6% in annual growth by not fully engaging women’s talents in the work place.  While there are not many women senior executives in Japan, there are now some CEOs and entrepreneurs of sizeable businesses who should be tapped for corporate board seats.   

What should be done to increase the numbers of women board directors?

  • Japanese companies need to accelerate the appointment of independent directors to their boards, since that is the most likely route that women can take to board positions. 
  • The business case for women’s inclusion on corporate boards needs to be made by women business leaders and women’s organizations.  That is, that women are the majority of consumers and almost half of the labor force, so they are important stakeholders whose insights and perspectives should be represented on corporate boards.
  •  Japan should hire, train and promote to leadership roles its most neglected resource:  women. 

 About CWDI
This report is the 13th conducted by CWDI, a non-profit organization that has provided research on women directors in Australia, Canada, Japan, South Africa and Spain, as well as those on the Fortune Global 200,  the Latin Trade 100 and in the financial and healthcare industries globally.  CWDI also brings women directors together globally to establish an international network of women directors on issues of corporate governance.


EDITOR’S NOTE: Full copies of the report are available to the press by contacting Larry Grady at 1-202-415-8396 or


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