Not a single Japanese company has applied for a government subsidy to encourage firms to promote women in the 17 months since the plan started.
Under a labor ministry plan unveiled in April 2014, small and medium-sized companies that promote women are eligible to apply for a 300,000 yen ($2,500) payment per company, while larger firms can get 150,000 yen each. The ministry had budgeted 120 million yen to be distributed to about 400 companies.
The program requires companies to set their own numerical targets and achieve the goals within six months. Firms also need to offer at least 30 hours of training to educate their workforce about equal opportunity rights, according to the health ministry’s Megumi Kondo. After some firms said the criteria were difficult to meet, the ministry plans to simplify the process and offer a 300,000 yen subsidy for all companies regardless of size, said Kondo, a development officer at the ministry. No date has been decided for the change.
The lack of applicants is a blow to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has set a goal for women to hold 30 percent of supervisory positions in all fields by 2020, up from just over 8 percent last year in private companies. He needs more women in jobs to bolster a shrinking workforce and support growth in the world’s third-largest economy. To this end, he included increased help for families in a new economic plan unveiled last week.
“The intention of encouraging more women into the workforce is good,” says Masamichi Adachi, senior economist at JPMorgan Securities Japan. Even so, companies may be more inclined to promote women if they were fined for lack of effort, rather than being given subsidies, the former Bank of Japan official said.