Can Women Avoid the Rice Paper Ceiling? A SWOT Analysis of Entrepreneurship in Japan

By Futagami, Shiho; Helms, Marilyn M. | SAM Advanced Management Journal, Spring 2017 | Go to article overview

Can Women Avoid the Rice Paper Ceiling? A SWOT Analysis of Entrepreneurship in Japan


Futagami, Shiho, Helms, Marilyn M., SAM Advanced Management Journal


Using the easy-to-understand SWOT approach (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats), this article plumbs the role of women in Japan's economy, exploring entrepreneurship as a potential avenue to greater involvement that bypasses the rice-paper ceiling. Although women are generally well educated and appreciate change and flexibility, they face daunting obstacles in the business world: Japan's low rate of entrepreneurial activity, a culture that assigns them to the domestic sphere amid widespread gender segregation, lack of mentors, and limited access to financial resources, to name a few. Nevertheless, Japan's aging workforce needs more women, the economy needs more start-ups, and an increase in government-sponsored training programs and other aids may help women directly and change cultural norms indirectly.

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Entrepreneurship is a crucial force that moves economies. Around the globe, many jobs are created by small businesses and entrepreneurs, improving national economies. When entrepreneurs succeed, they generate new wealth along with the conditions essential for an effective society (Miambo-Ngcuka, 2015; Morris, 2001; Welsh et al., 2014).

For women in Japan, entrepreneurship could be the solution to overcoming entrenched gender roles and factors limiting their career progress in traditional businesses (see "Married Women ...," 2012; Mackie, 2003; Tipton, 2000). These barriers are often termed the "rice paper ceiling." Yet, expansions of small business efforts in countries without an entrepreneurial culture require vigorous support, capital investment, a qualified workforce, and an easy-to-follow process to obtain a business license and all required permits. This research uses a SWOT analysis methodology to profile the current state of the Japanese economy and the role of women, focusing on opportunities for women to achieve independence and mobility through entrepreneurship.

SWOT Analysis

Strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT) analysis is a straight-forward, comprehensive strategy (Taylor, 2016) that outlines ways to overcome challenges and discover new opportunities. The process developed in the 1960s remains ubiquitous in academic and practical usage (Learned. Christensen, Andrews, and Guth, 1969). Helms and Nixon (2010), in their 10-year review of SWOT methodology in academic business research, found this methodology has been extended beyond companies to include industries as well as countries.

SWOT analysis can recognize both internal and external effects. Internal factors in a SWOT analysis refer to strengths and weaknesses comprising financial, physical, human, and natural resources that are readily accessible. Internal factors are usually accessed before external factors when conducting a SWOT analysis. External factors reference macroenvironmental forces that are more difficult to control including demographics, political and legal trends, economic trends, sociocultural issues, and technological innovations.

Following the identification of internal and external factors, a 2 x 2 SWOT matrix is developed. From this list, SWOT analysis can be used to discover new initiatives, make imperative decisions, and identify areas for needed improvement. There are many advantages in using SWOT analysis as a strategic planning tool. The analysis framework is practical and easy to understand and can be used by experienced and nascent business practitioners alike. SWOT analysis can identify potentially hidden, but crucial, problems. This visual arrangement conveys a quick outline of an issue and encourages the integration and synthesis of diverse qualitative or quantitative information (Makos, 2016; Sackett. Jones, Erdley, 2005; Harrison. 2010).

SWOT has been used to analyze industrialized and underdeveloped countries (Atwood, 2011) and to outline opportunities as well as reveal challenges of entrepreneurship. In addition, it is used to enhance economic development and encourage entrepreneurial growth. …

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