“Economic growth will not continue without a diverse workforce”

A role model

Mayor of Yokohama Fumiko Hayashi helps bring more women into the workforce


Text by Mayor Fumiko Hayashi

I believe in the saying, “A life lived for others is the only life worth living”. I want to do everything I can to help those around me, to see that many people are happy, and so I’ve worked. To me, work is a means of meeting many people and it allows you to direct your energy to achieve these goals. As we work, we develop and grow, and live more fulfilling lives.

Over the years, I’ve seen a large number of talented women forced to leave their jobs because they got married or had children. However, through my 53-year career, having worked in car sales and retail management, I’ve realised that you get better results when men and women combine their strengths and work together. I thought that if a woman were to become mayor she could deepen people’s understanding of the value of this cooperation and encourage women to get more involved in society — which would lead to revitalising Yokohama’s economy — so I decided to get into politics.

After becoming mayor of Yokohama in 2009, I launched the Childcare Waiting List Reduction Project to help create an environment where couples could raise their children without difficulties. We arranged for a greater variety of childcare services, such as longer operating hours for daycares; worked with companies and NPOs to encourage them to diversify management styles; and our Childcare and Education Concierge service helps guide parents to appropriate service providers. In just three years, we reduced what was Japan’s longest waiting list of 1,552 children to zero. The approach, called “the Yokohama way”, has been taken up by the government, used as a model for other cities, and is a prime example of reform, which is being increasingly applied.

As a result of our initiatives to support women, the first of which was the Childcare Waiting List Reduction Project, the rate of working women in their late 30s in Yokohama has gone up 6.6%. It has pleased me greatly to see that women who had given up on their career after having children are now deciding to get back into the workforce.

As Japan’s population declines and ages, economic growth will not continue without a diverse workforce. In Yokohama, we are awarding SMEs with fewer than 300 employees the Yokohama Good Balance Award for promoting the role of women in their company, encouraging a better work–life balance, and fostering an environment where men and women can work together effectively. We offer incentives such as preferential treatment in public procurement and advertising opportunities for companies at events for university students. As of last year, 11 years after its launch, 99 companies have been given this award. We have been told that, among other positive outcomes, the number of women applying for jobs at these firms has increased.

In Japan, the Act on Promotion of Women’s Participation and Advancement in the Workplace was established in 2015, and both the public and private sectors are working to see this fully implemented. However, Japan currently ranks 114th out of 144 on the Global Gender Gap Index and there are still very few women in leadership positions.

One way we are trying to get women to become more active in the workforce is through the Women’s Networking Conference in Yokohama: Women’s Business Festa, an annual event where like-minded working women can network and meet role models. There is also a programme to help women develop a career plan and enable them to reach leadership positions.

Although there are still many barriers for women in Japanese society — including traditional ideas of divisions of labour based on gender and a corporate culture of working long hours — by persevering in our efforts and involving companies across all industries, we are determined to lead Japan in creating a society of equality. 

Mayor Fumiko Hayashi has been mayor of the City of Yokohama since 2009.

“You get better results when men and women combine their strengths”