Table Speech


Strategic Diversity Management Enhances Business Growth

August 5, 2020

Ms. Yukako Uchinaga
Board Chair,
J-Win Non-Profit Organization


 I started my career at Japan IBM Ltd. in the field of manufacturing and development but not specifically in diversity management. Back in 1993, IBM suffered serious financial losses and brought Mr. Louis Gerstner, the first outsider, to spearhead its recovery strategies that resulted in one of the most remarkable comebacks in business history. He strategically promoted diversity in the workplace that included accelerating gender balance to transcend the glorious past of IBM, initiate changes and leapfrog the business. When I had a chance to talk with him, he emphasized that to leverage female talent was the first step towards ensuring diversity and inclusion in an organization. I was reassured that diversity would be the key element to become a game-changer in an ever-moving world. I founded a non-profit organization J-Win in 2007 and have been working with corporations to promote diversity.

 I was deeply impressed by “The World Is Flat” written by Thomas Friedman who argued that the advancement of information technology and networks had reduced physical barriers in communication, such as time and distance. According to “Moore’s Law,” an observation and projection of historical trends, semiconductor performance improves 100 folds in 10 years and 10,000 folds in 20 years. Two decades ago, major companies had to pay a fortune for large-scale computers to use functions now available on our smartphones. It is said Moore’s Law will continue at least for the coming 20 years. Business conditions are evolving at an unprecedented speed and companies must transform their business models to survive and stay in the driver’s seat. Paradoxically enough, however, big companies with successful leaders are often the least ready to shift their mindset and embrace change because they tend to stick to their conventional way and fail to challenge the status quo. As such, I believe we can make a paradigm shift in thinking by diversifying our workforce and managing our human resources in a strategic and progressive manner. I often advise companies to leverage female talent as a starting point to shift mindsets in an organization and to eventually enhance diversity and inclusion. A research conducted by an US consultancy firm Catalyst revealed that Fortune 500 companies with more female directors outperformed those with the least, with the former achieving 42% higher return on sales and 53% higher return on equity.

 Now when we look at the Global Gender Gap Index issued by the World Economic Forum, Japan ranked 121st last year among the 153 countries benchmarked on their progress towards gender parity in four dimensions of economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival and political empowerment. Ironically enough, our ranking has dropped by nearly a quarter in 10 years despite the ambitious measures taken by the Abe Administration to promote gender equality that culminated in the enactment of the “Act on Promotion of Women’s Participation and Advancement in the Workplace” in 2016.

 There are three major obstacles that hinder women’s career advancement in Japan. Firstly, many women cannot find successful female role models or mentors to keep them motivated and focused on their future career path. Secondly, how to keep a healthy and sustainable work life balance can be a challenge that requires good management skills. Back in 2001, Japan IBM introduced a company-wide remote work system in response to requests made by female employees to give them flexible work arrangements while assigning specific tasks and delegating responsibilities to ensure performance-based evaluation and accountability. IBM was a pioneer in remote working and succeeded in raising its female manager ratio from 1.5% to 13% of the whole employees in 5 years. Now, the so-called “old boys’ network” is the third barrier to female career progress. Successful businesses with a long history tend to have unwritten business rules and familiar behaviors that are passed down to male colleagues while leaving behind female employees, although unintentionally. In Japan where lifetime employment is a long-established practice especially among large firms, there are a large number of unwritten rules that can inadvertently make female employees miss out on opportunities to develop and advance their careers.

 J-Win has been working over 14 years to tackle these three barriers through various training programs targeted for female employees at different career levels. Every year, we train about 300 female section managers sent by our member companies for a year-long “High Potential Network” program which aims to motivate them to aspire higher. Our “Next Stage Network” program focuses on director-level employees to gear up for the opportunities ahead. “Executive Network” programs encourage Managing Directors to broaden their career horizons globally as well as to hand down their expertise and experiences to the younger generation. To date, we have trained in total 3,000 female employees under the slogan “Women to the TOP!”. We also launched a new initiative to network male members to tackle the “old boys’ network” which is the last barrier to female career advancement.

 Before I close my speech, let me call upon Chief Executives to exert leadership in enhancing diversity to ensure business growth. We plan to launch “Top Executive Community” this October and ask business leaders to pledge their commitment to diversity management as a key action for business innovation. Let me ask for your cooperation and support under the belief “Diversity is the Game Changer”.

 Promotion of Women’s Participation and Advancement in the Workplace” in 2016. There are three major obstacles that hinder women’s career advancement in Japan. Firstly, many women cannot find successful female role models or mentors to keep them motivated and focused on their future career path. Secondly, how to keep a healthy and sustainable work life balance can be a challenge that requires good management skills. Back in 2001, Japan IBM introduced a company-wide remote work system in response to requests made by female employees to give them flexible work arrangements while assigning specific tasks and delegating responsibilities to ensure performance-based evaluation and accountability. IBM was a pioneer in remote working and succeeded in raising its female manager ratio from 1.5% to 13% of the whole employees in 5 years. Now, the so-called “old boys’ network” is the third barrier to female career progress. Successful businesses with long history tend to have unwritten business rules and familiar behaviors that are passed down to male colleagues while leaving behind female employees, although unintentionally. In Japan where lifetime employment is a long-established practice especially among large firms, there are a large number of unwritten rules that can inadvertently make female employees miss out on opportunities to develop and advance their careers.

 J-Win has been working over 14 years to tackle these three barriers through various training programs targeted for female employees in different career levels. Every year, we train about 300 female section managers sent by our member companies for a year-long “High Potential Network” program which aims to motivate them to aspire higher. Our “Next Stage Network” program focuses on director-level employees to gear up for the opportunities ahead. “Executive Network” program encourages managing directors to broaden their career horizons globally as well as to hand down their expertise and experiences to the younger generation. To date, we have trained in total 3,000 female employees under the slogan “Women to the TOP!”. We also launched on a new initiative to network male members to tackle the “old boys’ network” which is the last barrier to female career advancement.

 Before I close my speech, let me call upon chief executives to exert leadership in enhancing diversity to ensure business growth. We plan to launch “Top Executive Community” this October and ask business leaders to pledge their commitment to diversity management as a key action for business innovation. Let me ask for your cooperation and support under the belief “Diversity is the Game Changer”.