The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan

With the late August enactment of a Japanese law requiring companies with more than 300 employees to be transparent about management promotions, the inaugural Kansai Women in Business Summit provided a timely opportunity to share practical steps and best practices for diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

“The time for action in Japan is now,” keynote speaker Sachin Shah said when addressing more than 200 attendees, including 16 members of the Union of Kansai Governments (UKG).

Women account for 80 percent of purchasing decisions in his industry, Shah acknowledged. Thus, having more women employees was a matter not just of greater equality, but of greater competitive advantage.

What’s more, a sales force that better understands its customers makes better decisions.

Quoting economist John Maynard Keynes, Shah emphasized that, “The difficulty lies not in accepting new ideas, but in escaping old ones.”

That said, he encouraged the audience to take responsibility and raise awareness to create positive change.

Yumiko Murakami, head of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Tokyo Center, highlighted unconscious bias in hiring.

Using the New York Philharmonic to illustrate her point, Murakami related how adapting a blind audition process gradually had led to that organization’s greater diversity—by removing false assumptions based on a candidate’s physical appearance.

“Everyone knows why there should be more women in the workforce. We want to focus on what to do to get there,” she said.

Murakami emphasized the need for Womenomics 2.0: rather than only increasing number of female employees, companies should provide training and opportunities to build confidence and maximize potential.

On the women in the leadership panel, American Chamber of Commerce in Japan (ACCJ) Vice President Leanne Cutts joined Kotomi Takagi and Erin Nolan in sharing success stories.

“Learn to manage your energy and not your time because work tends to be cyclical and there are times you have to go full-on. You can have it all, but not at the same time.

Say ‘yes’ to opportunities early and often and keep challenging yourself because you don’t build a legacy by taking comfortable jobs,” Cutts advised.

As a male champion of change, Patrik Jonsson shared his experience as a hands-on parent, joking that it was much easier leading a company of 250 employees than dressing a two-year-old.

To support working parents, Jonsson enacted a corporate policy banning early morning departmental meetings to allow employees to drop off children at school or daycare without worrying about work matters.

He encouraged women to learn hard skills such as finance to round out their leadership portfolios.

“Equal opportunities are not just good for people and business, but also a critical step to enable a stronger economic GDP for Japan. [Men] need to drive the change. It needs to start with us.”

Co-panelist David Swan agreed. “Men have an important role to play in the empowerment of women. Communication and raising awareness regarding unconscious bias are key factors.”

Noriko Hidaka, on the HR best practices panel, shared her Japanese corporate perspective. “It is great to be at an event with multinational corporations,” Hidaka said.

“In past forums I have participated in, there were only Japanese corporations involved. There are very few opportunities like this.

“I want more and more people to participate in the future. Japanese people have a stronger unconscious bias to overcome. Men have to become more open-minded and give women more opportunities.”

In an effort to identify unmet needs, the Kansai Women in Business committee created a wish tree, asking attendees to write their hopes for changes in the workplace.

These wishes and other takeaways from the summit will be shared with the UKG on Friday, October 16, at a pre-event to commemorate the 10th ACCJ Walkathon in Kansai.

In his remarks, ACCJ-Kansai Vice President Kiran Sethi said, “The ACCJ’s Women in Business committee started in Kansai 10 years ago, when attitudes in Japan were quite conservative.

Some progress has been made, but to reach Prime Minister Abe’s target of 30 percent [women in executive positions] by 2020, a change in the mindset is critical.

“We need to keep reminding corporate leaders and boards. We hope that participants will take today’s learning back to their companies and translate these ideas about diversity and inclusion into practical actions.”

Rose Tanasugarn is the ACCJ Kansai’s Living in Kansai Committee chair.
The difficulty lies not in accepting new ideas, but in escaping old ones.