The Japan Business Federation, known as ‘Keidanren,’ has an answer to the headlines about women being underrepresented in the nation’s business sector: its first-ever all-female delegation that’s currently making the rounds in New York and the U.S. capital.
The group is led by BT Japan president Haruno Yoshida, and its mission is to make the business case for getting more women into the workforce. That objective echoes the years-long ‘Womenomics’ push by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, which aims to jump-start Japan’s economy by adding more women to it. (Women’s labor force participation rate in Japan—66.7%, according to the OECD—is nearly equal to the U.S.’s—66.9%—but women in Japan often work so-called irregular jobs that are part-time.)
During the delegation’s stint in the U.S., it’s meeting with corporate execs from Blackrock and Honeywell, members of Congress, and IMF managing director Christine Lagarde. But the group’s most notable stop was the White House, where the businesswomen talked with President Donald Trump’s economic advisor Dina Powell. (The White House did not return requests for comment on the meeting.)
Yoshida says the discussion with Powell went beyond how a diverse workforce benefits a business; it touched on how getting women into the workplace is a business opportunity unto itself. If women are working, they need more services like child care and transportation; they need tools to maximize the hours in every day. “Change is always a business opportunity,” she says. And while Yoshida is under no impression that the U.S. has mastered workplace gender equality—”it is not picture perfect,” she says—she does hope Japan can adopt more aspects of the U.S.’s approach to work-life balance, such as using technology to work remotely. Japan’s “long working hours habit has to be fixed,” she says.
The delegation asked for the meeting with Powell because it sees women’s economic empowerment as a priority of the Trump administration. Indeed last month, President Trump, First Daughter Ivanka Trump, and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hosted a roundtable conversation about how the U.S. and Canada can work jointly to push the issue. If Japan and the U.S. take on the “gender discussion” together, Yoshida says, it will only strengthen their economic ties.
When asked about the all-female make-up of the delegation, Yoshida dismissed any notion that it was a veiled message to Trump, who’s repeatedly run afoul of gender equality advocates. It was only fitting that Japan send businesswomen to talk about women’s economic issues, she says, and in meetings with U.S. government officials no one questioned the legitimacy of the topic.
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