More female execs key to growth: Japan’s Recruit

Linda D. Garrow

Glassdoor owner Recruit Holdings said it wants to have women in 50 percent of its senior executive and managerial roles within 10 years — a rare pledge in a country where men dominate the top echelons of companies, politics and the civil service.

The push for more women at the upper levels of Japan’s largest staffing agency is part of a diversity drive to ensure a flow of bright business ideas, said Recruit chief operations officer Ayano “Sena” Senaha, its most senior female executive.

As of April 1, 21 percent of Recruit’s senior executives, including heads of major business units, were women, compared with 10 percent a year earlier, company data showed.

Photo: Reuters

“It’s a survival mechanism for us — it makes commercial sense,” Senaha said in an interview. “We don’t manufacture things, unlike many other Japanese companies, and we launch services from fresh ideas from the employee base.”

Recruit is already a corporate outlier in Japan, the world’s most aged society, where many graduates still expect to spend their whole careers working for the same firm.

Although three-quarters of Japanese firms have one or two female directors, only 5 percent have three or more, MSCI index data showed.

By contrast, two-thirds of companies in the US, 85 percent in the UK and 100 percent in France have at least three female directors.

Recruit’s workforce is young and half are women. Senaha, 39, was promoted to the board in June 2020, becoming the youngest female director among Nikkei 225 companies.

She took up her post in April last year. The company announced its pledge a month later as a measurable target to accelerate its diversity drive.

“We need that pressure,” Senaha said.

Recruit plans to nominate a third woman, Keiko Honda, as an outside director to its 10-person board at next month’s annual shareholder meeting.

Recruit has already had a female chief executive officer, Eiko Kono, from 1997 to 2004.

“It’s a great first step and I hope they expand into other measures of diversity and disclose everything,” said Nicholas Benes, a corporate governance expert.

“Diversity should also include foreigners, nationality, upbringing, education and key skills,” said Benes, who heads the Board Director Training Institute of Japan.

In past decade, Recruit’s purchase of US job search engine Indeed and job review site Glassdoor have lifted overseas revenue to about half of the company’s total from less than 4 percent. It has a market capitalization of US$60 billion.

Indeed cofounder Rony Kahan is the only foreigner on the board.

In the past few years, successive prime ministers have emphasized the need for Japanese companies to become more diverse and offer flexible working.

Under revisions to Japan’s corporate governance code last year, companies are encouraged to disclose targets for promoting diversity.

However, Japan continues to be known for long working hours, and many women still drop out of the workforce after having children. Few men take substantial paternity leave.

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