Nissan chief executive Carlos Ghosn has played down Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's call for women to occupy 30 percent of top jobs by 2020 by suggesting a more realistic goal. Photo: Reuters

Tokyo - Nissan chief executive Carlos Ghosn has raised doubts over Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s call to appoint women to 30 percent of top jobs by 2020, saying rushing to meet such a target could set the firm and its staff up for failure.

Abe issued his call as part of a strategy to encourage more women to work in the third-biggest economy, replenishing Japan’s dwindling workforce in a rapidly ageing population. Yet with women now filling just 1 percent of jobs on corporate executive committees, the target is ambitious.

Scepticism from Ghosn, a Brazil-born French citizen of Lebanese origin who is seen as one of the more progressive executives in the country, echoes resistance among Japan’s more tradition-bound business leaders to the 30 percent target.

Ghosn said aiming for 10 percent by March 2017 was a more realistic goal for Nissan, where women fill 7 percent of management positions.

“Frankly, what I don’t want is a burst of females in management with a lot of failures,” Ghosn told a news conference in Tokyo yesterday, when asked about the 30 percent target. “We need to show successes. If people see… failures, it’s going to be counterproductive.”

Abe has talked up the potential for women to contribute more to Japan’s economy in line with his administration’s reforms to stoke growth, dubbed Abenomics. But his pledge at the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos in January that women would occupy 30 percent of leading jobs in Japan by 2020 is lofty: women at Japanese firms account for only 11 percent of mid-level to senior management and just 1 percent of executive committee members, according to McKinsey.

The number of women in management positions at Nissan is well ahead of many Japanese car makers. Around 1 percent of managers at rivals Toyota and Honda are women.

“I totally understand and support the Japanese government’s efforts to promote women in society. Obviously the Japanese government has a lot of objective reasons to do that,” Ghosn said. “But I think 30 percent is ambitious.”

Japan’s top business lobby, Keidanren, opposes across-the-board targets and has said companies should adopt their own individual strategies to promote more women.

The government has said it would pave the way by promoting more female civil servants, and Abe has suggested that firms start out by appointing at least one female executive.

Economics Minister Akira Amari, however, said recently that he was not keen to force numerical quotas, even in government positions. “If there aren’t the right people but you force it, the means become the target,” he said. – Reuters