Three-quarters of Japanese companies have no female senior executives and the vast majority say women account for less than 10 percent of management, a Reuters poll showed, underscoring an uphill battle for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's "Womenomics" push.
Saying he wants women to shine, Abe has championed the need to bring more women into the workforce and into leadership posts. He wants to see the proportion of female senior executives at listed firms climb to 10 percent by 2020 and the number in management rise to 30 percent.
Discrimination against women has re-emerged as a hot topic of debate in Japan after a probe into a Tokyo medical school found last month that it had lowered women applicants' entrance exam scores for years because it believed too many women quit their careers after having children.
The Reuters Corporate Survey, conducted August 29-September 10, found that only one-tenth of Japanese firms could say women accounted for 10 percent or more of management.
At three-quarters of companies, the figure was less than 10 percent and at 15 percent of firms, there were none.
The survey also found Japanese companies tend to hire men at a higher rate than women.
Men who got jobs accounted for more than half of all applicants at 43 percent of companies that hired new graduates this year, while women who were accepted made up over half the applicants at only 20 percent of businesses.
Despite the low numbers, nearly all companies said their hiring policy was not to discriminate on the basis of gender. Firms in sectors like construction and metalwork said they did not have many female applicants.
Some respondents said that for more women to join senior corporate ranks, Japan needs to create a more supportive environment for women to pursue careers.
"The number will increase naturally if we create a system that allows women to remain in work even after having children and by nurturing capable employees regardless of sex," a manager of a services company wrote in the survey.
Companies responded anonymously to the survey, conducted for Reuters by Nikkei Research. Of the 482 large and mid-sized non-financial firms polled, 215-251 companies responded to questions on women in the workforce.
Japan lags well behind other major industrialised nations when it comes to gender equality, ranking 114th of 144 countries in the World Economic Forum's latest Global Gender Gap report.
More women have joined the workforce in Japan, though many are part-time workers. Some 66 percent of Japanese women were working in 2016, OECD data shows, compared with 56.7 percent in 2000.