Gender inequality in the Japanese Workplace and the Influence of National Culture

by | May 19, 2023 | 0 comments


Gender Inequality in the Japanese Workplace and the Influence of National Culture

By Chika Miyamori & Reiko Tashiro, CQ Lab, Japan,



Gender inequality in Japan remains a significant issue, as indicated by the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Index 2021, where Japan ranks 120th globally. The country lags in political representation and economic opportunities for women. Efforts are being made to increase women’s participation in leadership roles.

A survey reveals that only 22% of respondents feel they can express their uniqueness, while 35% feel a sense of inclusion. This suggests that many individuals experience assimilation rather than inclusion. Despite nearly 70% of Japanese companies recognizing the importance of diversity and inclusion, the actual implementation is lacking. However, organizations that have embraced diversity report positive effects such as increased efficiency, productivity, and engagement.

Japan’s childcare leave system for men is one of the longest in the world, yet the actual uptake by men is low at 5.14%. Busy work schedules and an unsupportive workplace atmosphere hinder men from taking leave. This indicates a gap between policy and practice.

We argue that the cultural dimensions of Masculinity and Uncertainty Avoidance in Japanese society contribute to these challenges. Japan’s strong masculinity reinforces gender roles and societal friction, while high uncertainty avoidance hampers tolerance for diversity. To address these issues, promoting cultural self-awareness and creating an organizational culture that embraces uniqueness and inclusion are crucial.

To achieve this, the four competencies of Cultural Intelligence (CQ®) are proposed: CQ Drive (Motivation), CQ Knowledge (Cognition), CQ Strategy (Metacognition), and CQ Action (Behavior). Developing these competencies allows for effective collaboration and understanding across diverse backgrounds, fostering a culture that embraces uniqueness while bridging cultural differences.



Gender inequality,  Leadership roles, Inclusion, Uniqueness & Belongingness, Culture, Cultural Values, Hofstede, Cultural Intelligence



In Japan, the Basic Law for a Gender-Equal Society enacted in 2003 and the establishment of the Council for Gender Equality in 2004 triggered progress in gender-related diversity initiatives and discussions on the importance of supporting women’s social advancement and career development, as well as work-life balance.
In recent years, an increasing number of companies and organizations have begun to incorporate diversity as a management strategy as the concept of utilizing diverse human resources to enhance an organization’s competitiveness and ability to innovate is gaining ground. At the same time, however, the gender gap index in business and politics remains low.

In this paper, we describe the current status and challenges of inclusion in the Japanese workplace, focusing on the gender gap, and describe the DEI initiatives that have begun in the government and companies, their achievements, and their benefits. Then using the parental leave system as an example, the paper describes the reality and reasons why the system is not working even though it is in place. And we attempt to explain the cultural background that Japanese society is prone to assimilation rather than inclusion concerning diversity, using Hofstede’s 6-dimensional model. Finally, based on this, we will present the direction in which the government and companies should work using four competencies of Cultural Intelligence.

Gender Inequality in Japan: An Analysis of the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Index 2021 and Gender Equality Efforts

In the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Index 2021, Japan ranks 120th in the world. In particular, the index shows that progress in the political field, the economic field, and society as a whole is lagging.

In the political area, for example, the percentage of women in the Japanese Diet is on the rise, but the gap with other developed countries is large. In Sweden, the percentage is 44.7% (4th), while in Japan it is 7.9% (160th).

In the Economic Participation and Opportunity result, while women account for 42.2% of the Japanese workforce, the percentage of women in managerial positions is 11.9%, which is low by international standards, compared to 43.0% in the U.S. and 38.7% in France.

Currently, the government has set a goal of “increasing the percentage of women in leadership positions to 30% as early as possible in the 2020s,” and is promoting Positive Action, considered one of the most effective measures to increase women’s participation, by providing information, encouraging, and collaborating with related organizations.

On the other hand, according to a report on the status of gender equality in employment released by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, the percentage of women in managerial positions and above is only 8.6%, which is far from the targeted 30% level.

Survey on Inclusion and Diversity in the Japanese Workplace and the Role of Belongingness and Uniqueness

According to a global survey on the inclusion of foreign workers, 44.0% of Japanese workers said they would like to work with colleagues from different backgrounds, a low figure compared to the global average of 79.4%.

According to L. Shore et al.’s inclusion framework, 2×2 quadrants can be drawn according to the degree of Belongingness to the workplace and Uniqueness (the degree to which people can express themselves)  (Chart 1) suggesting that the feeling of inclusion requires both Belongingness and Uniqueness.
It also argues that inclusion is an important factor to generate innovation through the active participation of diverse human resources and to achieve management benefits.

According to a survey of men and women in the Japanese workplace, although 64% of respondents scored very high on the item related to teamwork: “I frequently feel a sense of belonging”,  only 22% of respondents said they “frequently feel that they can demonstrate their individuality”, and only 35% said they “frequently feel inclusion”. In other words, it can be concluded that many men and women feel “assimilation” rather than “inclusion” in the Japanese workplace.

Chart 1



Importance of Diversity and Inclusion in Japanese Companies: Survey Results and Impact on Performance

According to a survey of Japanese companies, when asked whether they place importance on diversity and inclusion in their management strategies, nearly 70% of the companies responded that they “somewhat place importance” or “place importance” on diversity and inclusion.

Furthermore, when asked about the effects of having a diverse workforce, the companies that responded that they are working on inclusion indicated that it has had high effects, such as “increased efficiency and productivity” (64.3%) and “increased engagement” (50.4%). The companies that responded that they “do not yet engage in inclusion but plan to do so in the future” also had high percentages of respondents for “improving efficiency and productivity of work styles” (55.6%) and “improving engagement” (42.2%).

A study by Boston Consulting Group found a strong correlation between innovation capability and management diversity. Examining perspectives such as gender, age, country of origin, career path, industry background, and education, as well as organizational revenue, the study found that organizations with above-average diversity generated 19 percentage points higher revenue than those with below-average diversity. The study also suggests that organizations with diverse management teams have better financial performance.

The Gap Between Policy and Practice: Exploring Japan’s Childcare Leave System for Men

So what is Japan’s work-life balance system and how does it work? Let us look at the childcare leave system for men.

According to UNICEF’s survey on the family-friendly policy in the OECD and EU, Japan leads the world in the length of childcare leave for fathers who receive the maximum childcare benefits, at 30 weeks. Japan is second only to South Korea in terms of the length of childcare leave for fathers eligible for childcare benefits, with a maximum of one year (52 weeks).

While the system is great, the actual rate of Japanese men taking childcare leave is very low at only 5.14% (2017). This low rate stands out in comparison to Norway with 89% and Sweden with 75%.

According to a survey, the number one reason why Japanese men did not take childcare leave was that their work was too busy and there was a shortage of manpower in the workplace, and the number two reason was that the workplace had an atmosphere that made it difficult for them to take childcare leave. The workplace and mentality have not caught up with the systems that have been put in place.

Inclusion and the Six Dimensions Model

We hypothesize that culture is a responsible factor for Japan’s significant gender gap and low inclusion in the workplace, and attempt to analyze it using the Hofstede Six Dimensions model. In particular, Japan’s uncertainty avoidance (92) and masculinity (95) are very high globally, and Japan is uniquely positioned in the world for the combination of these two cultural dimensions. (Chart2)

These two cultural dimensions have a significant impact on how diverse human resources are viewed, therefore we argue that Japanese society is likely to be characterized by a widening gender gap and difficulties in promoting inclusion.


Chart 2  Chart generated using Hofstede Culture in the Workplace QuestionnaireTM dashboard


  • Masculinity-Femininity Dimension: Gender Roles and Societal Friction

Hofstede describes the key difference in basic attitudes toward gender and sex between masculine and feminine societies as follows.

In a masculine culture, “there are double standards” for gender roles, with men being subjects and women objects, while in a feminine society, “there is a single standard”  for both sexes being subjects.

According to Miyamori et al., the more a society has social and emotional gender roles for men and women, the more likely there is to be friction between genders. For example, power harassment and sexual harassment, which are repeatedly reported in Japan, are attributed to their strong masculinity.

There are many examples of gender roles in Japanese society. For example, in Japanese school extracurricular activities, for “male” athletic teams such as baseball and soccer, the role of care, such as taking care of the health and daily life of the players, and support roles such as chores have traditionally been performed by “female” managers.

According to Hofstede, the masculinity-femininity dimension is also related to opinions about the right way of handling immigrants. He states that the percentage of those who defend “assimilation” (immigrants should give up their old culture) rather than “integration” (immigrants should adapt only to those aspects of their culture and religion that conflict with their new country’s laws) correlates with the score of masculinity.

  • Uncertainty Avoidance, Tolerance for Diversity, and Strong Masculinity Combined

According to Hofstede, cultures with strong uncertainty avoidance tend to view “What is different is dangerous,” resulting in increased ethnic prejudice, xenophobia, and a tendency to believe that “immigrants should be sent back,” compared to cultures with weak uncertainty avoidance.

Among them, Hofstede argues that cultures with strong uncertainty avoidance and masculinity are more likely to increase ethnocentrism, xenophobia, and aggression than countries with other cultural patterns, stating “Fascism and racism find their most fertile ground in cultures with strong uncertainty avoidance plus pronouncedly masculine values.”


Inclusion measures with a cultural perspective using CQ’s four competencies


As already mentioned, Inclusion requires Belongingness and Uniqueness of individuality. In the Japanese workplace, while many employees feel belonging,  not so many feel they are demonstrating their uniqueness and are included. Although the government and companies have made various efforts to promote diversity, results are lagging. We believe this is due to the lack of a “culture” in the perspective, especially the elements of strong masculinity and uncertainty avoidance of the culture.


Society as a whole needs to increase its cultural self-awareness as well as that of others. And only when that perspective is applied to our efforts will we be able to foster an organizational culture that allows minorities to express their uniqueness. When incorporating the cultural perspective, we propose a method based on the following four competencies of Cultural Intelligence (CQ).


CQ is defined as the capability to relate and work effectively with people who have different backgrounds and provides a practical, evidence-based approach for making sense of our differences and learning how to bridge our divides without forcing everyone to conform to the same thinking and behavior.
CQ comprises four complementary factors: CQ Drive, CQ Knowledge, CQ Strategy, and CQ Action.

CQ Drive (Motivation) is the level of interest, drive, and energy to deal with cultural differences. We often label people who do things differently from us as “weird” or “wrong”. For example, if you are part of the majority group in your workplace and you find the ways of foreign workers “strange,” you should ask yourself “To whom is it strange?”  Perhaps it simply comes from unfamiliarity. Even if a difference causes moral dilemmas involving human rights, we cannot develop effective solutions unless we understand the perspective behind it. And strong motivation is key to doing this.

CQ Knowledge (Cognition) is the understanding of cultural differences and their role in shaping how people think and behave. For example, if you are often irritated that some groups are routinely “unpunctual” or “impolite,” having evidence-based resources such as the Hofstede 6D model will be a great help in understanding how preferred approaches differ for things like communication, leadership, risk tolerance, time orientation, etc.

CQ Strategy (Metacognition) is the ability to “think about thinking.” It requires our ability to Suspend Judgement, and to plan, monitor, and assess our understanding and behavior. For example, if you are frustrated with a group of colleagues from a certain background not voicing their opinions in the meeting, you might check your assumption, and come up with a more constructive and inclusive way rather than forcing them to assimilate into the majority.

CQ Action (Behavior) is the ability to act appropriately in a wide range of intercultural situations (and also knowing when to adapt and when not to adapt.) Even if you have extensive knowledge about the culture of your new colleague who is struggling in the workplace, or can analyze the situation deeply, there is no use unless action is taken in real life. And if you have drive, knowledge, and strategy, you are in a good place to launch an action.


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CQ is a trademark of the Cultural Intelligence Center, LLC



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