First things first. This editorial will spare you from justifying the need and the urgency in addressing the issue of diversity in Japan. A number of articles and information have already been published out there which eventually leads to one conclusion: Diversity is a critical issue that Japan needs to address NOW not tomorrow. It is now even a matter of national self-preservation.
Hence, the more appropriate question to be asked is not whether Japan needs diversity and inclusion (D&I) programs but "how do you go about it?." It is in this context that this editorial aims to focus.
The bottom line: Senior management buy-in and ownership of is absolutely essential in any D&I initiative. Lip-service or handing responsibility over to HR professionals will not do the trick and will have no impact on the biggest obstacle, middle managers.
The fact is that most managers in Japan do not know what ‘diversity’ means and, to some extent, that is understandable. Diversity, a national value in Singapore, is a relatively new concept in a homogenous society such as Japan. Exploring what diversity means in the context of Japan can be hit or miss.
Managers attend a D&I conference and struggle to relate to self-promoting women and examples of Rosa Parks liberating ethnic minorities. Then, there’s the katakana term ‘diversity hire’ used by the Labor Bureau and HelloWork which refers to people with disabilities.
Further more, managers are told they need to have more women in senior positions when their company structure has historically given limited opportunities and little career development to women, and, oh by the way, the government would like them to address the falling birth rate.
So, how can HR help senior management understand what diversity and inclusion means, why this is an important value proposition for the company and what they need to do to lead from the top?
1. Implement diversity training that even the cynics will enjoy.
* We all know we need to ‘raise awareness.’ Training programs and speaker events are the natural vehicles for this.
* In order to change a culture, you need to train at least 1/3 of your people. This presents a strong case for a variety of mandatory diversity training endorsed by company heads, for all staff or at least the most senior 1/3 every year.
* Think beyond programs that promote a culture of respectful behaviors, though this is a good place to start if your company does not already have such a program. A menu of skills based training will enable managers to understand what it means to be a ‘diversity conscious’ manager and how their management style can change to fit with new HR policies and staff needs. Examples include teaching managers how to manage someone on a flexible working arrangement, address diversity in leadership programs, providing female development programs to bridge apparent skill gaps, how to work with people with disabilities, how to manage a smooth transition to and from maternity leave, appreciating diversity of thought and style, cross-cultural differences and inclusion of people who are gay, lesbian, bi-sexual or trans-gender.
* Diversify the style of training and make it as interactive as possible. There are several options available including experiential workshops, actor-based training, speaker and networking events, coaching, on-line training – remember, everyone is different and learns differently.
2. Get senior management’s commitment.
* A workshop exploring the business case for diversity at your company in Japan will help pin down some priorities that everyone buys into.
* Don’t stop there. Now have each senior manager take responsibility, whether belonging to a diversity council, leading a diversity network or sponsoring a diversity event. Senior management need to be involved in order to cascade down and talk about diversity and inclusion with any credibility.
* Coach senior managers to make their own diversity speeches rather than writing the perfect speech for them – they need to believe and be connected to what they are saying.
* A designated diversity professional makes a statement of the company’s commitment and should be meeting face to face with senior management as much as possible. And, don't let management fool themselves that engaging a diversity professional gets them off the hook, the role of the expert is to facilitate management not do everything for them.
3. Speak the managers’ language (numbers).
* Relate diversity to the bottom line. By having the best talent from a variety of backgrounds, a company is able to come up with a different solutions and innovative products to meet the demands of a wide and diverse market.
* Managers like to see internal progress and metrics. They also want to know how this compares with others in their industry in Japan. Don’t shy away from benchmarking and surveys. Compared with most countries, there are very few surveys, awards and lists for the best companies in diversity in Japan. If there is no external benchmarking survey available, collaborate with the companies you would like to be compared with to develop your own. The challenges of promoting Diversity & Inclusion in Japan are quite unique. Not only do you need a locally appropriate approach, you also need to benchmark with best practices in place in companies in Japan.
* Reward ‘diversity conscious management’ whether formally tied to performance appraisal and compensation or with informal ‘diversity appreciation awards’.
The above approach is best summarized as the “top-down” approach to D&I. You can also use a “bottom-up” approach but based from my experience, this approach loses momentum in the absence of senior management support and sponsorship. You need both.--SP