Billionaire Uniqlo Founder Wants a Woman to Take His Job

Japanese fashion retail giant Uniqlo will likely have a female leader in the future, setting an example of a corporate shift from traditional gender roles that have typically left women under the glass ceiling.

Tadashi Yanai, founder and chief executive officer of Fast Retailing Co., which wholly owns Uniqlo, has expressed his preference for a female successor on Tuesday saying that the job is simply more suitable for a woman.

“The job is more suitable for a woman,” the 70-year-old — whose net worth is $24.8 billion, making him Japan’s richest man — told Bloomberg Japan. “They are persevering, detail-oriented and have an aesthetic sense.”

Yanai at Panasonic’s Cross-Value Innovation Forum 2018. Image via YouTube / Channel Panasonic – Official

Yanai also acknowledged the possibility that this successor will be Maki Akaida, who was appointed to run Uniqlo Japan — the company’s most profitable unit — this year.

Additionally, he expressed his intent to increase the ratio of female senior executives to more than half the total — Fast Retailing has six women in such roles at present.

Uniqlo Japan CEO Maki Akaida. Image via Fast Retailing Co. / Asahi Shimbun

Akaida, 40, joined Fast Retailing in 2001. Aside from managing Uniqlo stores in Japan and China, she has also worked in sales and human resources.

However, Yanai pointed out that many women are reluctant to become managers because they are worried about changing their lifestyle. “I don’t think there’s a glass ceiling,” he said.

Yanai speaks at a Uniqlo event in Manhattan in 2017. Image via Twitter / @UniqloUSA

The buzz about Uniqlo’s next CEO comes amid Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s calls for solutions to the country’s shrinking workforce, part of which concerns better work-life balance and more senior positions for women, according to Forbes.

Gender wage gaps must also be addressed, as the World Economic Forum ranked Japan at 110 in its 2018 Global Gender Gap Report, with women making 24.5% less than men in the same role in 2017.

More recently, the International Monetary Fund called Japan’s gender gap ranking “miserable,” though it recognized the new ranking from 114 in 2017 as a “slight improvement.”

If Akaida is selected, she could face “substantial headwinds” due to her gender — and especially because the fate of Asia’s largest retailer now rests in her hands, according to Business Insider.

Items on display at a Uniqlo store in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture in 2016. Image via Pixabay

It’s unclear when Yanai plans to step down from his position, but that decision is clearly being influenced by considerations on his age.

“We’re in the business of selling clothes — it’s not so good that we’re old,” he said.

Feature Image (left) via Steve Nagata (CC BY 2.0), (right) via Getty

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