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Episode #2:
Women's Empowerment in the Japanese Workplace: How It Has Evolved

Episode Takeaways

In this International Women’s Day episode of Job Market Pulse, Olivia Boutault, Associate Director at JAC International, shares her experiences and insights on women’s empowerment in Japan’s workplace. Olivia highlights challenges such as societal expectations, career and motherhood balance, and the need for women to speak up and advocate for themselves.


She emphasises the importance of companies actively promoting female leadership, supporting flexible work arrangements, and fostering a culture of inclusion. Olivia notes that while Japan still has room for improvement in gender equality, there’s been progress in awareness and initiatives to create a more balanced work environment.


Key advice for young female professionals entering Japan’s workforce includes being proactive in negotiating career goals, seeking flexible work options, and finding mentors or role models for support.

Duncan: Welcome back to JAC International’s audio series, Job Market Pulse. I’m Duncan Harrison, Managing Director of JAC International, welcoming you to our audio series as we aim to provide a guide to navigating the Japanese job market.

Now, in honor of International Women’s Day this March, we’re diving into a crucial conversation about women’s empowerment in the workplace, with a special focus on Japan. Joining me today as a special guest on this episode is Olivia Boutault, who recently joined us as an Associate Director at JAC International. Olivia, it’s great to have you here today.

Olivia: Thank you, it’s great to be here. Thanks for having me.

Duncan: So, before we dive into our discussion, I want to give Olivia the stage to introduce herself. Olivia, could you share a bit about your background and your role here at JAC International?

Olivia: Yes, of course. As you can probably tell from my accent, I’m initially from France. I’ve been in Asia for close to a decade now, and for the past nine years, I’ve been in Japan. I worked in a different industry before, but for the past nine years, I’ve been working in recruitment. I started working as an Associate Consultant and went through the ropes all the way to my current position as Associate Director, where I look after several teams, especially technology, healthcare, also corporate office recruitment teams.

Duncan: Thank you, Olivia, for that wonderful introduction. Now let’s dive into our topic today. Olivia, as we celebrate achievements and discuss the challenges women face in the workplace, especially in Japan, could you share your journey and experiences in the corporate world for us please?

Olivia: Yes, so Japan as I mentioned has been already nine years. Personal experience wise, I would say recruitment is quite a meritocratic industry, so it’s mostly based on results, but there are definitely – hearing from personal stories, backgrounds like family, friends, and also other colleagues who have worked in Japanese organizations, international organizations– there’s definitely a lot that can be done in Japan, which is still quite low-ranked in terms of gender equality worldwide, so a lot to discuss on the topic.

Duncan: So Olivia, reflecting on your experiences, let’s talk about some specific challenges women face in Japan, in Japan’s corporate sector. What barriers have you observed or encountered?

Olivia: Yes, a lot of different barriers. But besides the corporate sector, there’s quite a big weight on genders, gender expectations, both what is expected from women, what is expected from men as well in Japan. So of course without generalizing, there are exceptions, but in a lot of cases, women have quite a strict, a very strong idea of what is expected from them and can have self-limitations in terms of what they could potentially achieve as a career in Japan is a big topic. Another big obstacle is in terms of when it comes to motherhood, when women in their careers want also to have more of a private life. Finding that balance between career and motherhood can be a huge challenge as well in Japan.

Duncan: Okay, so shifting gears a little bit Olivia, I’d love to hear about initiatives or practices that you’ve seen empower women in the workplace, especially here in Japan?

Olivia: Yes, definitely one of the things that stands out and actually for me was very attractive in terms of group is JAC has a woman CEO, which is still quite rare in Japan and also speaks a lot in terms of career, you can go all the way to the top.

Duncan: Yeah, yeah. So yeah, for those of you that don’t know, JAC Group and JAC International, half of our employees are female. And the wider group, we have a goal to have management positions filled within the next five years, 50% female. So we have active committees and working forums to promote that.

Outside of JAC, Olivia, how do you think companies can better support women’s growth and leadership in Japan?

Olivia: One big topic in Japan overall is talent and finding the right talents. So one way for Japanese organizations, international organizations in Japan to not solve that issue, but to evolve on the topic is to hire women talents and women leaders.

And of course, JAC and JAC International are here to support on those aspects and making sure that we introduce female talents to help organizations reach a bit more of a balance in terms of gender within the organization is one way to do it. Another big point is to make sure that there are succession plans, including female leaders, to make sure that there is a D&I team being very mindful of inclusion in the workplace.

Duncan: All right, so turning now attention to the future, Olivia, what advice would you give to young professional, young female professionals entering the workforce in Japan?

Olivia: Yeah, so this is something I really care about and that I’ve really noticed so far in my career is that a lot of women do not dare to speak up. There’s something that’s actually been documented that’s called the Tiara Syndrome, which is a lot of women tend to feel that if they work hard, they will naturally be rewarded for their efforts and feel that they do not need to ask in order to get a promotion or salary increase. But that’s something I’ve noticed can really help both candidates externally and also internally, even our own colleagues.

I always make sure to discuss in terms of negotiation, in terms of promotion plan, what do they want to achieve. It’s quite important that they feel that they have the voice to do so. And for candidates, helping them when it comes to their career, if they need help in getting a more senior title, if they feel they don’t really know how to negotiate to get a better salary. I do work a lot on that with leaders and an advice I would give to future leaders or people who want to step up would be to speak up when you feel that you’re not getting what you want and make sure that your needs are being heard.

I would say in Japan it’s quite strong, it’s also the glass ceiling, the fact that if I’m a woman, maybe I cannot aspire to go to a manager level or even higher. Not everyone wants to be a manager in Japan, and that’s something that’s quite big in terms of something to consider for an organization point of view, is that a lot of women feel manager is too many responsibilities.

So of course, maybe organizations think it’s important to have women leaders, but then the women don’t always want to go to that manager level. It’s also something to be taken into account.

And I would say it can be a little bit more common in Japan compared to other countries. That’s again, going back to that balance between work-life balance, having a family and a career. It’s good to have targets on women leaderships, but you need to go really to the root of it. Do the women actually want to step up? Is it a psychological obstacle that they set to themselves? Is it a family situation? Maybe they don’t have someone to take care of their children and they feel that if they were to be a manager, they would not be able to cope at home as well. There’s a lot to take into account. That’s more than KPI in terms of how much percentage of women leaders do you have in your current organization.

I’m actually quite curious, Duncan, to hear and especially I feel I’ve spoken quite a lot, but I understand you yourself, you were in Japan and then had the opportunity to work in other markets, China and Korea, and then came back to Japan. How was it coming back? Do you feel that the landscape has changed, especially on the topic of women and women leadership?

Duncan: So yeah, I first moved to Japan in 2005 and started working in recruitment in 2007. And then I was away from Japan from 2014 to 2020, 2022 in China and Korea. So I think in those eight, nine years that I was away, certainly a lot did change. And many things did change for the better, I think, you know, comparing the landscape now to 2007, there’s certainly a lot more focus for my clients to hire females.

There’s a lot, I do feel, compared to 2007, there’s also a lot more government initiatives to encourage females to combine motherhood and a career. But yeah, I think certainly what we see a lot more now is an active awareness compared to 15 years ago, that companies will be more successful the more diverse they are, not just in terms of decision-makers, gender or sexual orientation, a whole wide range of issues or matters. Companies are a lot more aware now that the more diverse they are, that the more successful they will be. And as a result, you know, I would say a lot more placements that we make as a company now for leadership positions are female at the managerial level.

Olivia: And one thing I’ve noticed actually is that, of course, Women’s Day is a big thing. And we talk a lot about Women’s Day and what can be done in the workplace, but where does that come from? Where does the need come from?

For me, realization came one day when I was at the work event and I had a female colleague come to me and say, thank you for being here. And it came a little bit out of the blue after a few drinks. So I was thinking, what does she, what do you mean by that? And she was mentioning, well, you know, it’s really important to have women managers and thank you for being here and showing that it can be done.

So for me, it reminded me all of those efforts to some people you feel a woman’s day is here again every single year. Why do we have this? But it is important that we kind of take a moment to think where are we at and what is still to be done. And for me that conversation really made me realize. Oh, it’s not just about gender equality, it’s not just about career advancements, it’s about all of those women who want to be represented and feel that having women managers give them the chance also in terms of careers, they see that it’s possible and they want to be able to achieve the same as well.

Duncan: That’s a really inspiring story, Olivia. And how about yourself? Was there a particular role model or somebody, a female, that you looked up to or gave you some inspiration for your own career?

Olivia: Yes, in terms of female leaders, I did have the chance in previous organizations, there were some women leaders as well. But to be honest, I do feel that in terms of management, I only had managers, and inspiration came more from my own family and going beyond what is established, what is possible or not. I always had support from my own family and family members where I do think we have a lot of strong women and always supported me in thinking if you want to achieve something just go for it.

Duncan: Finally, I’d like to discuss the concept of work-life harmony, especially for women in particularly demanding careers. How can they achieve life-work balance?

Olivia: So, good or bad, definitely I would say COVID has changed a lot on the views. And in a sense, a lot of organizations now offer more flexibility so that there’s a little bit more of a conversation, especially for women leaders who want a bit more time off or flexible hours. I would say finding an organization that is open to some flexibility will be the easiest option to balance between a successful career and a successful home as well.

Duncan: Yeah. Yourself, Olivia, as an Associate Director of a growing recruitment company, how do you manage your own work-life harmony?

Olivia: Yeah. Time management, that’s something that I would say in recruitment anyway is an essential skill, is to make sure that you think clearly when you’re at work and to make sure that you kind of establish boundaries, I would say would be the best key to success.

Duncan: Olivia, so once again, thanks very much. It’s been a really enlightening conversation all around.

Olivia: Likewise, and thank you again for having me.

Duncan: Thanks. I really feel that your insights, they don’t only just highlight the importance of supporting women in the workplace, but also offer a real hope and direction for the future. And so our listeners, remember, whether you’re seeking to advance in your current field, transition to a new industry, or find a role that truly balances your professional aspirations with your personal commitments, JAC International is here to guide and support your every step of the way. Thanks for joining us on this journey today. Thank you, Olivia, as well for the insightful conversation. We’re here not just to celebrate women’s achievements, but to actively contribute to making those achievements possible every day. Until next time, this is Duncan Harrison. Thanks again for joining us on this episode.


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