Woman director shakes up Japanese bank, others lag

Thu Nov 13, 2008 5:20am EST
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By Isabel Reynolds

TOKYO (Reuters Life!) - Michiko Achilles blasted through the "iron ceiling" that blocks many Japanese women's careers when she became a director at a bank this year, but an international survey shows her compatriots are falling behind.

She is among a handful of women breaking new ground. In September, Yuriko Koike became the first woman to stand for the leadership of the main ruling party and this week Naoko Yamazaki was picked as the second Japanese woman to go into space.

But a survey released this week by the World Economic Forum, a Swiss think tank known for its annual leadership summit in Davos, ranked Japan 98th of 130 countries in terms of gender discrimination, by far the lowest among the major industrialized countries.

Japan's ranking has fallen from 91st place last year and 80th spot in 2006.

After a career spent mostly with Western corporations, Achilles, a 52-year-old mother of two, chose the conservative Aozora Bank precisely because it seemed like a tough challenge.

"Many people told me Japanese companies are where the work really needs to be done," she told Reuters. "A lot of them are just faithfully following the old Japanese ways of doing things."

She said her arrival has been an eye-opener for staff at Aozora Bank.

"It's a new experience for the male employees. I think they are confused as to how to deal with me, at least at first."   Continued...

<p>Aozora Bank managing executive officer Michiko Achilles speaks during an interview with Reuters at the bank headquarter in Tokyo November 5, 2008. REUTERS/Toru Hanai</p>