Japan’s Ruling Party Invites Female Lawmakers to “Look, Not Talk” at Male‑Dominated Board Meetings
Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party recently announced it wants to move away from male-dominated board meetings, a long-standing phenomenon that has recently attracted criticism. The LDP is now inviting five female lawmakers to attend these meetings, with one stipulation: they can’t talk. The women are allowed to observe the meetings, and should they have opinions, they can register their thoughts with the secretariat office afterward.
It’s the latest development in a sexist controversy that started when the head of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics organizing committee, Yoshiro Mori, came under fire for saying meetings that had too many women tended to “drag on” because of how talkative women are. He added, “Women have a strong sense of rivalry. If one raises her hand to speak, all the others feel the need to speak, too. Everyone ends up saying something.” Mori eventually resigned for his sexist remarks and the outrage they caused. In an unprecedented move Thursday, 56-year-old woman Seiko Hashimoto was chosen to lead the Tokyo 2020 committee, signaling a surprise shift after it was understood an 80-year-old man was going to take Mori’s place.
The Mori controversy, however, is now spilling into politics. The LDP’s 12-member board only has two women; its 25-member general council only has three. Japan ranks an abysmally low 121 out of 153 on the World Economic Forum’s 2020 Global Gender Gap Index. For top-tier party executives to extend an olive branch looks good on paper — LDP’s secretary-general Toshihiro Nikai said the point was to let the women see how decisions are made within the Party. But this particular resolution manages to be both thebare minimum and also deeply insulting.
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For women in top-tier organizations, this is nothing new — both in Japan and around the world. “Women serve as Heads of State or Government in only 21 countries, and 119 countries have never had a woman leader,” according to U.N. Women. “At the current rate, gender parity in national legislative bodies will not be achieved before 2063.” Few women in positions of power both reflect and inform the perceptions those in power have toward women’s skills and abilities. Women don’t need to talk in LDP’s meetings because the male brass believes they won’t benefit from whatever female lawmakers have to say. This mindset then keeps more women from holding and enjoying support in positions of power, which again keeps men’s majority perception intact.
Even in corporates, women leaders have a tough time being heard and respected. In the Covid19 pandemic, for example, one survey of 1,100 working adults shows 45% of women business leaders feel it’s difficult to speak up in virtual meetings, and one in five of the women said they were ignored or overlooked when they had something to add. Even before the pandemic, during in-person meetings, studies show men in meeting rooms often entertain an unconscious bias that their fellow men have more to contribute to a meeting than their women colleagues. This results in a painfully common and frequent experience women have in male-dominated rooms: they are interrupted more often, and their ideas are taken less seriously, than the men around them.
According to the Harvard Business Review, experts have even devised a class of words to explain this phenomenon: “mansplaining,” when a man explains something obvious to a woman because he assumes she hasn’t understood; “manterrupting,” when a man interrupts a woman for no other reason than to hear himself talk; and “bropropriating,” when a man takes credit for a woman’s idea.
A common argument to justify the absence of women from top-tier organizations and professions is to blame the women for not being interested enough or working hard enough to make it up the ladder. But Japan’s latest snafu refocuses on the main issue: that the ladder is hostile and unwelcoming to women. It’s the mindset of those in power, and the systems that are designed to value men’s work and talent over and above everyone else’s, that need to change.