The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan

It’s 9:10am on Monday, June 29 as I step up onto the stage and gaze out at a sea of 700 faces.

As master of ceremonies (MC) for the 2015 ACCJ Women in Business Summit (WIB Summit), I feel a calm confidence and conviction that, throughout this day, we will deliver on our promise: showcasing people and organizations taking actions, driving through measurable change, and making a real difference to the experiences of women in the workforce.

Among the many faces before me, I believe there is an increasing number who will use the WIB Summit as a call to action. Jay Ponazecki, president, American Chamber of Commerce in Japan (ACCJ), echoes this in her opening speech by throwing down the gauntlet.

“Your job—starting today—is to be an agent of change. Throughout this summit please think about the role you can play and the actions you can take,” she urges.

On this day, I am encouraged at every step. Just a year on from our last summit, it is clear that change is taking place in Japan. We hear about this from speaker after speaker.

Looking relaxed and pleased to have a stellar cast of diverse women leaders on stage with him, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe positively bounces onto the podium and tells the audience that, “The government of Japan will make visible the companies who promote women.”

Haruno Yoshida, CEO of BT Japan and the only female Keidanren (Japan Business Federation) board member, reveals that when one of the 1,300 Keidanren member companies presents numbers on women promoted, the other organizations feel pressure to do the same. Her conviction, shared by US Ambassador Caroline Kennedy, is that, “Change may happen earlier than expected.”

As Abe leaves us with a commitment to take action based on the “homework” he has been given to do by the panel, imagine my delight when, after the morning breakout sessions, I find myself introducing a panel of Male Champions of Change—a first for the WIB Summit.

Kathy Matsui, head of Asia Research, Goldman Sachs, and author of Womenomics 4.0: Time to Walk the Talk, expertly moderates the group.

Panel member Yoshiaki Fujimori, president and CEO, LIXIL Group Corporation, says: “We made a public commitment to bring in 30 percent new female employees every year. Our promotion is based on equal opportunity. And, we give lots of leadership training.”

David Smith, president, Johnson & Johnson K.K., Vision Care Japan, praised the Male Champions of Change initiative as a change driver for his company. “We are committed and transparent, so we can easily access information and education from each other. Every time we meet I feel inspired to take more actions.”

Sachin Shah, director, representative statutory executive officer, chairman, president and CEO, MetLife Japan, was even more candid.

“Sometimes, it’s just about changing simple practical barriers. We had a daily 9:00am meeting. This was an impossible requirement for women dropping off small children at day care. We changed the time to 9:30am. Small steps can bring big results.”

Yoshihisa Aono, CEO and president, Cybozu Inc., is a champion of maternity leave and childcare. “I changed my company rules to increase maternity leave and have shorter working hours.

Now, 60 percent of our new employees are women. I also saw that women are scared to take maternity leave. I realized that men must also take leave and that I needed to be a role model. Since my 3rd child was born, I now leave the office every day at 4:00pm.”

After lunch, I have time to take a break from my role as MC. I sit in on both afternoon breakout sessions and workshops, which have been my responsibility to co-ordinate. Particularly complex in its design is the workshop, Performance Essentials—Developing and Leveraging Diversity of Work Style.

It includes big group interactive exercises and a team of five facilitators acting out real-life workplace scenarios, which participants greet with the laughter of recognition.

The workshop entitled Career Essentials—Successful Win–Win Negotiation Strategies for Women elicits a different, albeit intense, audience engagement. With many women’s leadership styles preferring a collaborative negotiation approach, participants are intent on practising and gaining the confidence to try the skills out at work.

It is 5:15pm. I am back on the stage, gazing down at a room transformed into a cocktail reception venue. A good percentage of our audience are still here to celebrate with us. I look back at the day and know that my confidence and conviction was well placed—today has been a success. I wrap up.

“We have seen a day with an amazing array of takeaways, of practical advice, of clear actions and solid commitments. Today we have seen and heard that change is in the air.”

Elizabeth Handover is Co-Chair, Women In Business Committee
I look back at the day and know that my confidence and conviction was well placed—today has been a success.