Tokyo, December TK, 2016: Japanese women may face an uphill battle when it comes to balancing work and family, but they do think woman should have a strong voice in popular culture and want to see stronger, positive role models on screen, according to a survey by J. Walter Thompson. This offers up opportunities for brands to both engage with women and help change the conversation.
J. Walter Thompson surveyed over 7,500 women in 16 markets – including nine in Asia – over the last year for the network’s global Women’s Index, which examines attitudes to everything from career and ambition to finance, technology, personal fulfilment, relationships and mentoring.
Based on the Women’s Index and three years of secondary research, J. Walter Thompson has also created 20 new Female Tribes TM. They characterize the key trends and facets of women around the world, allowing businesses and brands to better engage and communicate with women. Core to this is the concept of Female Capital, which is the value that women bring to the world as women; not just homemakers or consumers, but as wealth creators, inventors, pioneers, social activists and leaders.
“The content advertisers create doesn’t just reflect popular culture – it can help shape it.” says Amy Naoko Morita, Global Marketing Director, J. Walter Thompson Japan. “We believe that brands can help unlock female capital and value by changing the way they project, portray and talk to women. Defining women by their responsibilities or roles can be limiting. But by celebrating their achievements, we can inspire them”.
The index, which has now been expanded to Japan, shines a spotlight on the dilemmas and tensions faced by Japanese women, who women lag their counterparts not just globally, but across the rest of Asia, on attitudes and aspirations toward work, equality and ambition. While over 70 % of women in the global study feel there’s never been a better time to be a woman, only 43% of women in Japan feel that way. Japanese women are also half as likely to say their work is very linked to a sense of who they are, compared to women in the rest of Asia.
Just 28% of Japanese women, meanwhile, say they are more ambitious than their spouses, half the global rate of 56% - and much lower than the Asian average. In contrast, 74% of Thai women, 56% of Chinese women and 69% of Vietnamese women rate themselves as more ambitious than their other half. Japanese women ranked “caring” and “maternal” as the top two values they aspire to as women; the attributes that scored lower than other Asian women were “passionate, competitiveness, boldness, ambitious”. Women in Singapore, Vietnam and Taiwan, in contrast, all ranked ‘independent’ and ‘strong’ as their top three values.
This gap in outlook and attitude is partly due to Japanese culture – but largely due to Japanese corporate culture, which is known for both lifetime employment and long working hours. People who work part time or leave “early” at 5 pm or 6 pm are seen to be lifting less of a load; many women find their career flatlines or derails when they become mothers. With no prospect of a work-life balance, and a strong cultural acceptance of the primary caregiver role, many Japanese woman don’t even aspire to the kind of ambition seen among woman across the rest of Asia.
Indeed, the J. Walter Thompson research shows a both a sense of apathy, and tension, felt by Japanese women, who feel they must choose between work and family. When asked how confident they are in their chances of success, Japanese women scored the lowest in Asia. A whopping 37%, meanwhile say they don’t think they’ll ever reach their goals – which is notably six times higher than the rest of Asia.
While most Japanese women with children rated family as a high priority and were least likely to feel their identity linked to their work, 36% of Japanese women without children said they didn’t plan to have any, and another 40% weren’t sure if they would – both among the highest rates in Asia. The women without kids also worry about financial security, and express anxiety over the impact having children would have on their financial situation.
“What we see is that Japanese women who don’t yet have kids are hesitant because they feel that they will not be able to manage work and children at the same time, given the Japanese corporate culture. They see other women with children who are unable to continue working in such environment. So they feel that if they are going to have children, they are better off prioritizing children and family and that if they wish to be independent, they should give up on marriage and children” said Kumiko Ohashi, Senior Strategic Director, J. Walter Thompson Japan.
Businesses have an opportunity to unlock female capital, not only in how they promote gender diversity in their own organizations, but also through their marketing communications. How brands project and portray women impacts how society views women – and how women see themselves. Talking to women in a different way, and casting women in different roles in advertisements and branded content, allows brands to build deeper connections with female consumers while helping move the dial on how society views women’s roles. And Japanese women do want to see a more accurate, affirmative picture.
Even though Japanese women track lower on questions around work and ambition than the rest of Asia, Japanese women do aspire to be more than the sum of one part. While Japanese women cite ‘caring’, ‘maternal’ as the top two qualities women should aspire to, “independence” ranked a close third, which is notable. One third of the women we surveyed in Japan, meanwhile, say they are the major breadwinner. Over half Japanese women, meanwhile, make the majority of financial decisions in the household.
What’s more 53% of Japanese said they wished they’d seen more female role models growing up, 49% say there are a lack of female role models in film and TV, and 63% think women should have a louder voice when it comes to cultural influence. Six in 10, meanwhile, say they’d like to hear more about women in science and engineering – and while the majority say technology and social media has given them a voice, they also think there aren’t enough women working in tech.
“Brands need to go deeper in understanding the female audience in Japan as their societal roles continue to change and they are faced with new challenges and expectations. Advertisers can unlock female capital, elevating both women and sales, by supporting, encouraging and empowering their female audience in facing the new world together,” said Hironobu Kitajima, Managing Director, J. Walter Thompson Japan.
ABOUT J. WALTER THOMPSON
J. Walter Thompson Company was founded in 1864 and has been making pioneering solutions that build enduring brands and business for more than 150 years. Today the company includes several global networks including J. Walter Thompson Worldwide, Mirum and Colloquial.
J. Walter Thompson opened its first office in the Asia in 1929, and employs over 3,800 people in 53 offices across 18 countries in the region.
For more information, please visit www.jwt.com and follow us @JWT_Worldwide and @JWTAsiaPacific.
Asia Pacific Director of Corporate Communications