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Home > Opinions Last Updated: 15:04 03/09/2007
August 7, 2006

Utilizing Women Power in Japanese Business

Kuniaki SETO (Executive Director, Japanese Business Association of Southern California, Los Angeles, California)

This article is based on the interview with Mr. Seto in Los Angeles on July 12, 2006.

From our standpoint here in Southern California, Japanese business seems to be steadily expanding in the global market, especially in the area of manufacturing, and commerce. In particular, its contribution to the regional economy and employment is quite significant in California, offering about 154,000 jobs to American workers in the State of California. Furthermore, Japanese business has introduced very effective and efficient business practices such as the Toyota production system and energy-saving technologies to American business, and revitalized the U.S. economy in terms of manufacturing productivity and efficiency.

Along with expanding business relations between Japan and the U.S., there have been human interactions and movements rapidly increasing for recent years. For example, more and more Japanese, not only business personnel but also young people are visiting and staying here in Southern California, partly because of its proximity to Japan and its mild climate. In fact, there are about 20,000 Japanese students currently studying at various schools in California. After graduation, some of them go back to Japan, but others remain here to seek employment with Japanese-affiliated companies or American companies, given that they can obtain appropriate visas from the U.S. government.

It may be interesting to note that among those young Japanese who stay in the U.S., there seem to be some differences in business career development between men and women. Men tend to work for some organizations; even if they become successful in their own start up business in California, they often prefer to either go back to Japan and employed by a large corporation or join the local branch of a Japanese company here in California. This can at least partly explain why there are definitely fewer Japanese venture companies operating in Los Angeles or in Silicon Valley than Chinese or Indian venture businesses.

On the other hand, Japanese women tend to stay and develop their own business in California. This is understandable in view of the fact that many Japanese business organizations are still dominated by the so-called "male-centered culture" with very little chance offered to women for promotion to higher managerial positions, whether operating in Japan or in the U.S. For that matter, Japanese women would face tremendous challenges to overcome for their business success even at typical American companies, at least at large corporations. In other words, they have no option but to develop their own business for long-term career development.

At any rate, many Japanese women are quite capable and very successful in their own business. There are a number of distinct women presidents at Japanese start-up companies in California, especially in the service sector including job placement and manpower services. Generally speaking, women appear to have some advantage over men in developing human networks to support individuals and small businesses, and Japanese women seem to make full use of such talent to be successful in doing business here in California.

Although more and more Japanese women are promoted and adapted to managerial positions, the absolute number of women managers at major corporations in Japan is still considerably smaller than that in other countries. That means tremendous waste in human resources, which are becoming scarce due to Japanís declining and aging work force. Since the business capability and talent of Japanese women have been amply proved at least here in California, it is about time for Japan itself to make fuller use of them, especially their abilities to develop human networks and serve customers on a long-term basis. Otherwise, Japanese business might not be able to survive in global business under severe competition.

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