Diversifying the Workforce Through Womenomics and Project Management

In 2023, Shinzo Abe, former Prime Minister of Japan, introduced the concept of ‘Womenomics’, with the aim of encouraging more women to enter and remain in the labor market, thus aiding economic development.

Matsui, a Japanese American, first coined the term “Womenomics” in a paper published in 1999. It is estimated that closing the gender gap in Japan’s labour force could result in a 10% increase in GDP.

In recent years, the definition and application of the term ‘Womenomics’ has expanded considerably. According to Shipman and Kay in their book ‘Womenomics: Write Your Own Rules for Success‘, it is a major shift in the commercial and economic sphere as women become increasingly visible and influential in its development.

Problem Identification

It is well-documented that men have traditionally dominated positions in STEM fields. The National Girls Collaborative Project in the United States has forecast that by 2023, only 15% of engineers and 26% of computer and mathematical scientists will be female.

According to Harvard Business Review, teenage girls are being dissuaded from entering STEM-related fields due to a male-dominant society, unequal treatment and the prevalence of negative gender stereotypes.

Those involved in the STEM fields face a lack of role models, a society which perceives them as unusual, and both favourable and unfavourable discrimination. Although the environment may not be overtly aggressive, it is not particularly helpful in terms of making progress.

This suggests that there is an underlying issue which is preventing an increase in women entering STEM fields. It cannot be attributed to a single factor, instead it is likely to be a culmination of various factors with historical, social and psychological roots which still have an impact on modern society.

Despite the progress made over the past few decades, there is still a considerable gender gap in the IT workforce. Census statistics show that the percentage of women employed in the IT sector has grown from 8% in the 1970s to 27% in 2023. Nevertheless, there is still a long way to go in terms of achieving gender parity in this sector.

Past the Figures

Japan’s Womenomics initiative has proven to be a success, as evidenced by the rise in the number of women in their prime working years from 73.6% to 77.5%. This increase of two million women is a significant achievement and demonstrates the success of the initiative. Quantitatively, it has been a success.

Nobuko Kobayashi, Strategy Execution Leader of EY Asia-Pacific, recently highlighted in an interview with Forbes that despite an increase in the number of women in the workforce, the underlying cultural framework that fostered their exclusion continues to exist and is resulting in further types of discrimination.

Kobayashi highlights that the majority of occupations filled by women were typically considered as ‘nonregular’, which often resulted in lower pay and less secure working conditions. Furthermore, she observes that women are more likely to be dismissed than their male counterparts. To compound their stress, women in Japan are primarily responsible for the majority of unpaid care work in the country.

The situation in Japan is complex and requires careful consideration if we are to create an inclusive culture which encourages and embraces diversity, and provides opportunities for those who are traditionally underrepresented.

It is widely accepted that the computing industry needs to see an increase in the number of female employees, however, the only way to achieve this is by employing a targeted recruitment strategy. Cultural changes need to be implemented in order to create an environment in which female staff can feel supported and encouraged to pursue careers in the sector.

Women in Project Management

Project Management appears to be even more male-dominated than the IT industry overall. Estimates suggest that only around one-third of IT project managers are female, however the numbers are slowly rising.

In order to be accepted and successful in a male-dominated industry, women need to do more than just have the required skills. It is common for women to be met with comments such as “she’s not like other women” or “she’s like one of the boys,” which highlight the additional challenges they face in this field.

It is commonly perceived that female managers may be less reliable due to their potential for unpredictable behaviour, heightened emotions, sensitivity and an inclination towards conflict. Although this notion is not universally accepted, it is still a widely held belief that poses a challenge.

It is evident that prejudice has a detrimental effect in this context when one considers that female individuals who wish to have children may be forced to forego their professional aspirations. This is akin to women being dealt four cards in the game of poker when everyone else is holding five.

Managing Projects and Increasing Female Participation in the Workforce

What, then, do female project managers offer? More than you may think…

Research has demonstrated that women typically display more compassion towards their colleagues, resulting in a more pleasant working environment. Furthermore, women have been found to be more open to new ideas and more sceptical of proposed initiatives.

It is important to recognise that women’s life experiences are highly varied, giving rise to a range of distinct perspectives. As such, any comparison of these views would be a futile exercise.

We should embrace the idea that people from different backgrounds can challenge us and provide opportunities for growth and development, as diversity often leads to innovation.

It is widely acknowledged that there are a large number of highly qualified women who are well-suited to become project managers. Encouraging more women to pursue such roles would be a positive step, given the vast potential of this untapped resource.

How do we proceed?

Diversity is not simply a numbers game; it is about fostering a strong and distinct culture. Womenomics in Japan is a demonstration of the potential success that can be achieved when more women are encouraged to enter the labour force. It is important to note that women need not be restricted to lower level roles, but can and should be encouraged to aspire to senior positions such as CEO, developer, and project manager.

An honest evaluation of our company’s diversity is the first step towards achieving a more inclusive workforce. What is the current gender split of our workforce? Are there any disparities in terms of the positions of leadership and pay between genders?

It is possible that the results may be unexpected. If you realize that there is scope for development, then you are heading in the right direction. It is therefore important to identify individuals who can provide guidance, as well as offering an understanding of the cultural and psychological changes that are needed to create a more welcoming environment for women.

It is essential to set a positive example for the next generation. It is essential to demonstrate to women and young girls that they are just as valued and respected as their male counterparts, and that there is a place for them in the world.

The future is what womenomics is all about.

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