Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been promoting the increased participation of women in the Japanese economy, a policy popularly known as womenomics, as a pillar of his campaign for economic revitalization. While significant strides have been made with regard to increasing female workforce participation, corporate efforts to introduce flexible working practices, and spurring the promotion of women on the corporate ladder, womenomics will be incomplete if it remains confined to the established corporate structure. Unleashing the creative potential of half of Japan’s population will require an equally sustained effort to promote female entrepreneurship. This is a tall order for Japan where female entrepreneurs face a two-fold challenge: the modest development of venture capital and a host of legal and cultural hurdles to individual entrepreneurship; plus the additional hurdles for women in gaining access to the assets widely perceived as essential to success such as business networks, financing, technology, and access to markets at home and abroad. However, entrepreneurship offers Japanese women significant benefits through the opportunity to bypass rigid corporate hierarchies, custom tailor their workloads to better achieve work-life balance, and offer new and innovative products and services to the Japanese consumer.
On February 8, the Center for East Asia Policy Studies at Brookings hosted a distinguished group of policy experts and entrepreneurs for a discussion on the current state of female entrepreneurship in Japan and concrete strategies to promote female-run businesses in the country. They compared Japan and the United States, both in terms in differing results but also on-going common challenges, and discussed their own personal experiences.