The quest for gender balance in workplaces across Japan has increasingly found itself under the spotlight of local and international attention. Late last year the World Economic Forum ranked Japan 110th out of 144 countries, the lowest in the G7, in its Gender Gap Index. This stark message has led to a good deal of soul searching going on, and rightly so. Women now make up 43.8% of all workers in Japan, and yet currently occupy just 13% of management positions.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has long cited the importance of creating a system where “all women can shine”. From encouraging all political parties to balance the number of male and female candidates, to fostering empowerment through the annual “World Assembly for Women”, to the coining of the term “womenomics” there has long been political incentive for increased diversity. Having said that, the slow pace of improvement and the common reports of institutional bias makes it clear that much of the improvement is still needed before breaking through the glass ceiling becomes commonplace.
Nevertheless, there are signs of change on the horizon. This International Women’s Day we brought together three of our colleagues, two female and one male, to discuss how they see the commercial real estate industry in Japan changing in its approach to women in the workplace.
Yuko Okayasu, Head, Marketing & Communications, Japan, Cushman & Wakefield
Naomi Rice, Associate Director, Valuation & Advisory Services, Japan, Cushman & Wakefield
Tomoharu Ono, Associate Director, Project Development Services, Japan, Cushman & Wakefield
How well is progress being made towards gender equality in the real estate industry?
Yuko Okayasu: Arguably the real estate industry is one of the slowest to adapt to change. It has traditionally been a male dominated business, to the extent that when I showed up in a business meeting 15 years ago as an investment sales broker, the counterpart asked, “where is your boss?”. There was often an assumption that women working in real estate were there only to assist the men. However, women have started to show more interest in working in real estate, starting with leasing and retail and moving on to project management and valuation. Here in Japan we’re facing an aging population with a diminishing number of children, and women are therefore needed as a workforce at a country level. With that, local real estate corporations have become serious on gender equality and are facilitating programmes that turn words into actions.
Tomoharu Ono: Through my time in real estate I’ve seen a very positive movement towards more women joining the industry. However, equality is not just about reaching quotas. It’s also about the experience that women have once they’re in the door. This includes making sure that there are leadership opportunities across departments. It also means ensuring women can work in an environment where they feel safe, secure, and valued. In both the real estate industry and across other sectors it is vital that adequate training is offered on sexual harassment, for example, so that all employees can recognise what good behaviour looks like.
Naomi Rice: I see the challenge lying not solely in getting women into the real estate industry, but also to retain them through their career. When I got my real estate appraisers license 20 years ago, some 25% of the course were women. However, for one reason or another most of those have left the industry, or even the workforce entirely. This is down to a variety of reasons, including lack of opportunity for growth, and inflexible policies for mothers trying to juggle children and a successful career.
How are approaches to women in real estate leadership changing?
Naomi Rice: Female leaders are very limited in local real estate companies. I think would be difficult to see a big change unless the number of women in the industry as a whole increases. I believe ability is more important than gender in the real estate industry. I think the reason we see so few women joining and staying within real estate is that the work environment for women less than ideal. Work Style Reform is one of the most recent Japanese government key policies. With a declining working population, it’s important to promote work style reforms to help women and elderly workers play a more active role. Japanese companies are now working to improve their work environment, for example remote work and flexible work schedules.
Yuko Okayasu: I see that change is absolutely underway in the industry. With the emergence of female CEOs at blue chip developers and large hospitality groups, there is a feeling that the glass ceiling is starting to crack. What is behind this phenomenon is progression of more women through the upper echelons of higher education. There is now a significant talent pool of women with MBAs who have knowledge, skills, and understanding of the value of a diversified culture. They will be the role models and the “new standard” to the next generation of workforce.
Tomoharu Ono: I don’t see many women in leadership positions in Japanese businesses. On a fundamental level I think there’s a misunderstanding from male leadership on how to create a working environment conducive to enabling women to meet the needs of career and home. More flexible working hours, or allowing remote work, may help women to have longer careers as their lifestyle changes.
What have you done to help create “balance for better” within Cushman & Wakefield?
Yuko Okayasu: Here at Cushman & Wakefield Japan the business leaders partnering up with the HR worked hard to create an environment where our female colleagues, consisting of 40% of the entire staff, are respected, regarded as team players, and have the opportunity to participate fully. As for work-life balance, we have implemented policies that allow flexible work hours that is beneficial to everyone regardless the gender at Cushman & Wakefield. People and talent is the key driver in the real estate service business, and it only makes sense to take good care of our people, male or female, and put them at the heart of what’s next.
Naomi Rice: Achieving balance for better is not just about balancing men and women within the workplace. It’s also about ensuring that individuals achieve balance within their own lives. One of my core points of focus lately has been encouraging colleagues, male and female, to take holidays. The rate of paid holidays taken by employees in Japan is only 50%, with many workers feel guilty when they do take paid holidays. By encouraging holiday-taking, we’ve emphasized the importance of living balanced lives where neither work or family get neglected.
Tomoharu Ono: I think fundamentally achieving balance for better is a matter of respect, regardless of gender. If you respect one another, you can develop empathy, and from empathy build a culture that gives everyone the opportunity to work hard and progress. Regardless of who I work with, men or women, I put respect at the heart of my interactions.
What advice would you give to women joining the real estate industry for the first time?
Yuko Okayasu: You may feel a bit intimidated as one of the few female employees in meetings, but don’t be afraid to raise your hand and ask questions and express yourself. You are very possibly helping others in the meeting who have the same questions or thoughts on their mind, especially in Japan where there is a lot of peer pressure. Business needs fresh ideas and perspectives to survive that may have not been available among the same gender, and you might be perfectly placed to deliver those insights. Real estate plays an essential role in every part of our lives, and real estate needs insights from women too.
Tomoharu Ono: As with any major career decision it’s essential to study the industry and decide what you want to achieve within any given a real estate business. It’s especially important have a proper understanding of this environment since there are so many divisions within the real estate industry. While there are certainly some roles that are more male dominated than others, women should not feel dissuaded from applying for roles where their skill sets will be best suited.
Naomi Rice: In my mind it boils down to a few key tenets. Focus on your strengths. support people around you, and accept their help as needed. And believe in yourself.
To find out more about Cushman & Wakefield’s activities across Asia Pacific this International Women’s Day, check out our dedicated page here.