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Nissan CEO says Japan PM's target for increasing female managers too ambitious

Nissan Chief Executive Carlos Ghosn speaks during a press conference at Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan in Tokyo, Thursday, July 17, 2014. Ghosn, who has long made a point of promoting women to management positions, said the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's plan to boost female bosses to 30 percent by 2020 is too ambitious. The participation of women in Japan's workforce is very low by developed nation standards. Women make up 2.9 percent of manager-level and higher positions at Japanese companies employing 5,000 or more people. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)

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Nissan Chief Executive Carlos Ghosn speaks during a press conference at Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan in Tokyo, Thursday, July 17, 2014. Ghosn, who has long made a point of promoting women to management positions, said the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's plan to boost female bosses to 30 percent by 2020 is too ambitious. The participation of women in Japan's workforce is very low by developed nation standards. Women make up 2.9 percent of manager-level and higher positions at Japanese companies employing 5,000 or more people. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)

TOKYO - Nissan's chief executive, who has long made a point of promoting women to management positions, said the Japanese prime minister's plan to boost female bosses to 30 per cent by 2020 is too ambitious.

The participation of women in Japan's workforce is very low by developed nation standards. Women make up 2.9 per cent of manager-level and higher positions at Japanese companies employing 5,000 or more people. Abe wants to increase the number of women in jobs at all levels because Japan's population is aging and its workforce is shrinking.

Nissan Chief Executive Carlos Ghosn is advocating that women make up 10 per cent of Nissan's managerial ranks in Japan by 2017.

But Ghosn said he wasn't about to rush things just because having women visible in management ranks has become more topical in Japan.

The proportion of women in management at Nissan in Japan is now 7 per cent, although it's higher for Nissan globally at 10 per cent.

When asked why he was not as ambitious about empowering women as Abe, Ghosn said he didn't want a negative effect by having women fail as a result of being promoted with insufficient experience, which would be a step backward.

He instead hoped to have women "advancing safely," he said

"I'm being conservative. I'm being prudent," Ghosn told the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan in Tokyo.

The Geneva-based World Economic Forum ranked Japan 105th in last year's Global Gender Gap Report, which measures economic equality and political participation. Iceland was No. 1, followed by the Scandinavian nations. Germany was 14th and the U.S. 23rd.

Women make up 3.9 per cent of board members of listed Japanese companies, versus 12 per cent in the U.S. and 18 per cent in France, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

A Brazilian-born Frenchman of Lebanese ancestry, Ghosn was critical of the sexist corporate culture of Japan Inc. almost as soon as he arrived in 1999.

Ghosn, who also heads Nissan's alliance partner Renault SA of France, has led a business overhaul at Nissan.

Japanese prime ministers rarely last too many years in office and so it is possible Abe will never be held accountable for the numerical targets he has set for promoting women.

It's a different situation for Ghosn, who answers to investors, reporters and consumers on all the promises that he makes.

Although Nissan was quick to wave the flag of promoting women, it has not been as quick to tap them to its board of directors.

Japanese rival Honda Motor Co. appointed a woman to its board for the first time earlier this year.

Toyota Motor Corp., the world's top automaker, has no women on its board, and has said it has no immediate plan to add any.

Ghosn stressed Nissan sees women as important car buyers, and what they look for, such as seat positioning, interior materials and safety features, are critical in developing models.

That's why it's in Nissan's interests to have women in "decision-making" positions, he said.

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Follow Yuri Kageyama on Twitter at twitter.com/yurikageyama

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