The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan



D&I in 2015: Where Do We Stand?

By Elizabeth Handover

Japan had a banner year for Diversity and inclusion (D&I) in 2014, with more attention paid to the issue than ever before. Notable political progress was made, with five women appointed to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Cabinet.

Despite the ensuing scandals involving two of those candidates, Abe has shown steadfast resolve by striving to keep women in his inner circle.

The 2014 events calendar included the Women’s International Networking Conference, the USJC-ACCJ Women in Business Summit, the Global Organization for Leadership and Diversity (GOLD) Symposium, and the World Assembly for Women in Tokyo, all featuring a glittering array of speakers. These occasions certainly raised general awareness of the economic and social benefits of a more inclusive and flexible working life for all.

My favorite quote of 2014 came from Gerald Lema, president of Baxter International, Asia–Pacific region, at the GOLD Symposium: “Flexibility for no reason.”

In other words, flexibility needs no justification; it automatically brings benefits to every individual and every organization. How much better life would be if everyone could freely take time out from work to attend to family. Plus, caring for the increasing number of elderly family members is already starting to impact men as well as women in Japan.

The ability to work flexible hours and work from home will become the only affordable and practical solution.

I am encouraged to report that the government has embarked on several initiatives to promote D&I. The number of childcare facilities is gradually increasing, with Yokohama leading the nation. The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology is funding women’s leadership courses in the education field. The City of Yokohama now has both a director and an outside advisor for gender equality promotion.

The Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare is creating a global health innovation program, which will include modules on diversity. East–West initiatives are also under way, such as a collaboration between the Okinawa Institute for Science and Technology Graduate University and US colleges to run summer camps promoting careers in science, technology, engineering, and math among female students.

On the corporate side I have observed a growing number of companies taking action and providing budgets to bring gender empowerment training to their staff in Japan.

Some are setting up regional leadership and influencing skills training projects for female talent development across Asia, while others are at least introducing the D&I concept through mini lunchtime workshops.

On the minus side, while government representatives have gathered huge amounts of data on every possible diversity topic, there is still a lack of practical strategies to decrease workplace gender stereotyping, remove promotion barriers, and punish sexual/power harassment. This issue still seriously impacts women’s ability and motivation to stay in the workplace.

There is now academic evidence that even gender micro-aggressions such as brief verbal and behavioral indignities that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative sexual slights toward women can cause emotional and physical discomfort, or even mental health problems.

It is urgent, therefore, that more effort be put into raising awareness and supporting all organizations, to make workplaces inclusive, welcoming environments for all.

Finally, negotiation techniques represent one important professional skills gap.

Research from Harvard University clearly shows that traditional negotiating skills training based on the concepts of getting a deal, winning and losing, and confrontation do not work for women. This is one of the main reasons women still do so badly at negotiating better salaries.

At a pilot course I facilitated for the FEW Careers Strategy Seminar in September, all participants agreed that problem solving, finding mutual benefits, and building relationships provide them with a better-fitting and more appealing negotiation strategy.

This dovetails with Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s advice to “think personally, act communally.”



Elizabeth Handover is co-chair of the ACCJ Women in Business Committee and president of Intrapersona K.K., Lumina Learning Asia Partner.