Breaking the “Steel” Ceiling in Japan

Yokohama Mayor Fumiko Hayashi, the first woman mayor of a major Japanese city, visited Athena in April to discuss with us the issues and challenges facing women in business and politics in both Japan and the United States. Mayor Hayashi had a successful career in business before being elected mayor in 2009. In 2005, Forbes magazine ranked her #39 on their list of the world’s 100 most powerful women. At the time, Hayashi was the CEO of Daiei, Japan’s largest grocery store chain that she had been hired to turn around.

According to Forbes, Hayashi got a job after high school as a secretary. Next, she worked at a Honda car dealership where she excelled in sales. She later became head of sales at BMW Japan. After taking the top job at Daiei, whose president was male, Hayashi told Japanese newspaper Nikkei Weekly: “I thought I would be able to create an example of a success in male-female collaboration … that would be a good model for Japanese women to follow. That sense of a mission was the biggest factor prompting me to take up the position.”

Hayashi told Athena that she ran for Mayor for a similar reason and that the ceiling for women in Japan is made of “steel,” not glass. As Mayor, she is an important role model for Japanese women since many leave the work force after getting married. One of her major initiatives focuses on helping women start businesses for which the city of Yokohama provides incubator space. Mayor Hayashi is an amazing role model for all women, and Athena was honored to host her.