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How Companies are Tipping the Balance on Diversity in Japan

Hosted by: Hilton State Street

Earlier in 2015, The Chapman Consulting Group organised two roundtable sessions for Japan Heads of HR to discuss how organisations are tackling the diversity issue in Japan. The meetings took place in Tokyo and were co-hosted by Hilton and State Street, located in Shinjuku and Roppongi respectively. Both sessions were well attended by HR Leaders from companies such as AIG, ASML, Coca Cola, DHL, Energizer, Henkel, HILTI, Intel, Kellogg’s, Metlife, RB, Roche, Shell, Sungard and Zoetis among others.

Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) has been a headline topic in North America and Europe for years, but Japan, with its largely homogenous population, has lagged behind in implementation. In fact less than two percent of the population of 130 million are foreign citizens. In this environment we asked what companies are doing on the ground today in this area, and whether or not it is actually viable to implement an effective D&I strategy in this environment. What follows is a summary of the varied, and sometimes surprising discussion on the topic.

One German chemical company systematically measured the number of hires, promotions and resignations, and the results showed that statistically speaking women didn’t seem to want to be managers. The company tried to figure out the root cause for this during exit interviews, and often found that the women expressed a desire to look after their families and also a concern about being a burden on the company. These women had been influenced by strong cultural pressure in Japan, and typical company initiatives like flexitime and maternity leave programmes just can’t overcome this. As a result, we are seeing corporates in Japan making efforts to put women managers in place, to try to tip the balance.

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An American insurance company has tried to do this by starting with recruitment. The organisation makes it a priority to have a diverse slate of candidates, and it will not use headhunters who won’t comply with this. One logistics company takes it one step further by implementing a rule that every position needs to be interviewed by at least one woman. Furthermore, a woman must apply for every role, or it gets removed from the job board.

When it comes to current employees, some companies are trying to change their corporate mindset by using a ‘role model’ strategy, not only in management, but at every level of the organisation. These role models ‘wave the flag’ by taking advantage of maternity leave benefits, then coming back to successfully reintegrate with the organisation, thereby encouraging others to do the same. An Indian IT company talked about publishing a newsletter to showcase role models so these stories can be shared throughout the company.

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Japan can be a tough environment when it comes to D&I, but not all multinational firms are doing poorly, and we did have a few showcase companies that have enjoyed success in this area. One consumer firm has a strong mobility programme in place that creates a diverse management team for many of their offices around the world. In Japan, this company also makes it a priority to hire people who are non-Japanese. This is all part of one of the company’s key values, because it believes that diversity creates new ideas, which will give the company a competitive advantage.

There are certainly no obvious or easy answers when it comes to D&I in Japan, but it was an interesting conversation for everyone who attended, and it was good to focus on a topic that is not often discussed in Japan. It was generally agreed that most companies are still in the midst of trying to figure out their overall D&I strategies, and sometimes this raises more questions than answers. Questions such as, with all the maternity programmes being implemented, should there be matching paternity benefits? Should the focus be the male-female ratio, or should it be increasing non-Japanese talent to promote new ideas? Is this all ideals, and do we see positive results from these directives? How can these results be measured? We hope some of the ideas shared in this article can provide some insight and help to point your organisation in the right direction. Many thanks go to our hosts, Hilton and State Street, and we look forward to calling this group together again later in 2015 to see how things have progressed.

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