Japanese civil service chips away at gender inequality mountain

By on 16/04/2019 | Updated on 04/07/2023
Giving orders, or getting coffees? Japan set to miss targets for women in senior roles (Image courrtesy: Rawpixel/Pixabay).

New figures show the proportion of women among Japanese civil service recruits rising – including on the country’s fast-track leadership scheme. 

Figures from the Cabinet Bureau of Personnel Affairs released on Friday reveal that 35.4% of new civil servants were female during the past year – 5% above the government’s annual goal of 30%, and the highest ever.

The statistics also reveal that more women are being hired as career-track bureaucrats, joining Japan’s highly competitive employment scheme for high-ranking government official positions in central government. In fiscal year 2019, 34.6% of career-track bureaucrats were female. 

Inching up

Of the total 8123 newly appointed civil servants in fiscal year 2019, 2876 were women. It’s the fifth year in a row that Japanese women have accounted for more than 30% of new recruits, the government said, with the proportion rising by 1.4 percentage points since 2018.

The agency with the highest proportion of female starters was the Foreign Ministry, with 50%. The farm ministry and health ministry also performed well, with 43.4% and 42.5% respectively.

At the other end of the spectrum was the land ministry at 25.7%, and the National Public Safety Commission at 27%.

From a very low base

While more women are gaining entry to Japan’s civil service overall, however, the percentage of women in leadership roles remains very low.

Global Government Forum Women Leaders Index report found that in 2016-17, just 3.5% of Japan’s senior civil servants were women. Japan was one of the worst performing G20 countries on gender equality in senior civil service roles, with only Saudi Arabia scoring lower. 

The country is still falling short of its modest target of having 7% women in civil service leadership roles by 2020 – a goal revised down significantly from the initial 30% target, after the government admitted it would fail to meet it. While more women are being hired as career-track bureaucrats, it can take decades to rise to senior positions.

Commenting on the figures released last week, Mitsuhiro Miyakoshi, minister in charge of civil service reform, said: “We’d like to provide a working environment friendly to women and continue our efforts to increase female recruits,” the Japan Times reported.

About Natalie Leal

Natalie is a freelance journalist whose work has been published by The Sun Online, The Guardian, Novara Media, Positive News, and Welfare Weekly, among others. She also writes reports and case studies on global business trends for behavioural insights agency, Canvas8. Prior to working as a journalist Natalie worked for the public sector in social services for several years. She switched careers in 2013 after winning a fully funded NCTJ in a national writing competition. She holds a Masters degree in social anthropology from Sussex University where she specialised in processes of social change and international conflict and reconciliation processes.

One Comment

  1. M says:

    It is rather disappointing that you put a stock photo on an Asian person who has nothing to do with the story.

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