Japan’s prime minister unveils his own binder full of women

As governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney famously leafed through "binders full of women" who were qualified to join his cabinet. As prime minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe has a massive database. Or at least that’s the plan. As the Yomiuri Shimbun reported on Tuesday, Abe’s government is planning to launch a database of female candidates ...

KAZUHIRO NOGI/AFP/Getty Images
KAZUHIRO NOGI/AFP/Getty Images
KAZUHIRO NOGI/AFP/Getty Images

As governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney famously leafed through "binders full of women" who were qualified to join his cabinet. As prime minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe has a massive database. Or at least that's the plan.

As the Yomiuri Shimbun reported on Tuesday, Abe's government is planning to launch a database of female candidates who are qualified to become corporate executives:

The database will be available for businesses after they register with the government. If these firms want to recruit people in the database, they will negotiate directly with them.

As governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney famously leafed through "binders full of women" who were qualified to join his cabinet. As prime minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe has a massive database. Or at least that’s the plan.

As the Yomiuri Shimbun reported on Tuesday, Abe’s government is planning to launch a database of female candidates who are qualified to become corporate executives:

The database will be available for businesses after they register with the government. If these firms want to recruit people in the database, they will negotiate directly with them.

The government hopes listed firms will hire women from the database as nonregular outside board members….

According to the Cabinet Office, the number of female board members at listed companies stood at 505 as of May 2011, accounting for 1.2 percent of the total number of executives.

The percentage is far short of the government’s target of boosting the proportion of women in leadership roles to about 30 percent by 2020, observers said.

Romney may have been tarred and feathered for his inartful comment, but the binder-full-of-women approach to gender equality does have its supporters. As Amanda Hess wrote in Slate during the U.S. election:

I agree that Romney’s positions on health care, contraception, and the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act will do nothing to help women in jobs across America. Binders stocked with intelligence on top-shelf female candidates, though? I’m cool with those. In a rush to discredit Romney’s position entirely, commenters are strangely spinning his underlying point-when female candidates don’t apply for jobs, employers should find them, and hire them about half the time-as somehow anti-feminist.

The database proposal, in fact, is just Abe’s latest effort to make gender parity in the workforce a central pillar of his economic-growth strategy, known as "Abenomics." "Women are Japan’s most underused resource," the prime minister declared in June, while urging business leaders to hire at least one female executive per company. 

But some see Abe’s proposals as superficial reforms that do little to address structural barriers to closing the gender gap in the Japanese workforce. Here’s William Pesek over at Bloomberg this weekend:

Abe’s proposals hardly match his rhetoric. He has talked about extending child-care leave, expanding day-care facilities and asking companies to hire female board members. He’s merely scratching surface and reinforcing stereotypes about the role of women in society.

The government is considering circulating "Women’s Notebooks" to warn of the evils of postponing marriage and motherhood. Yes, career-oriented women are selfish. When Abe calls on companies to provide three years of maternity leave, he uses a Japanese expression that a child should be held by its mother until the age of 3. In other words, kids are women’s work.

A database won’t do much to root out that deeply entrenched perception. 

Uri Friedman is deputy managing editor at Foreign Policy. Before joining FP, he reported for the Christian Science Monitor, worked on corporate strategy for Atlantic Media, helped launch the Atlantic Wire, and covered international affairs for the site. A proud native of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, he studied European history at the University of Pennsylvania and has lived in Barcelona, Spain and Geneva, Switzerland. Twitter: @UriLF

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