From Runway to Run the Show: Mitsuko Tottori’s Remarkable Climb at Japan Airlines

Japan Airlines Breaks Gender Barriers with Historic Appointment of First Female President

In a significant stride towards gender equality, Japan Airlines (JAL) has announced the appointment of Mitsuko Tottori as its first female president, marking a historic moment for the airline industry and Japan’s corporate landscape. Tottori, a seasoned executive with a remarkable ascent from a cabin attendant to a senior managing executive officer, is set to assume her new role on April 1, 2024.

This groundbreaking move comes at a critical juncture for Japan, where there is an ongoing struggle to address a substantial gender gap in the workplace. Tottori’s appointment serves as a symbolic step towards fostering gender diversity, a challenge that Japanese companies, including JAL, are under increasing pressure to address. Japan currently grapples with the highest gender pay gap among the Group of Seven nations, nearly double the average of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) grouping of advanced economies.

Joining JAL in 1985, the same year the airline faced one of the worst crashes in its history, Tottori brings a wealth of experience and a unique perspective to her new leadership role. Her journey from a cabin attendant to a senior managing executive officer exemplifies her resilience and dedication to her career.

At a press conference, Tottori expressed her hopes that her appointment would inspire and empower female employees facing career challenges or significant life events. She emphasized the importance of providing encouragement and courage to those navigating their professional journeys.

As Japan Airlines navigates the challenges posed by the pandemic-era downturn and the gradual return of tourists to Japan, Tottori’s leadership is expected to play a pivotal role in steering the airline towards recovery. The recent spotlight on airline safety, following a collision between a JAL plane and a Japanese Coast Guard aircraft at Tokyo’s Haneda airport, underscores the importance of effective leadership in ensuring passenger safety.

Tottori’s extensive experience in safety operations and service positions her as a capable leader to address safety concerns and strengthen the airline’s commitment to passenger well-being. Notably, her involvement in the aftermath of the recent collision demonstrates her dedication to prioritizing safety, a crucial foundation for any airline.

The outgoing president, Yuji Akasaka, will transition to the role of chairperson, while Yoshiharu Ueki, the current chairman, is set to retire in April, leaving the director position upon shareholder approval in June.

Japan Airlines has set ambitious targets to increase gender diversity, aiming for women to constitute 30% of managers across the group by the end of the fiscal year to March 2026. As of March 2023, the corresponding figure stood at 22.8%, highlighting the challenges that lie ahead in achieving this goal.

In reflecting on her historic appointment, Tottori expressed her pride in the airline’s achievements and her commitment to maintaining a strong focus on safety. As the first female president in JAL’s seven-decade history, she recognizes the symbolic significance of her role and pledges to serve as a role model for aspiring female professionals in the industry.

With Mitsuko Tottori at the helm, Japan Airlines is poised for a new era of inclusive leadership, setting an example for other companies in Japan to follow as they strive for gender equality and diversity in their organizational structures.