Chamber governor aims to bring
about change in business and society

Frustration at the slow pace of change in corporate attitudes and a deeply unimpressive uptake of diversity, equity and innovation (DEI) initiatives within Japanese firms have been Dr. Jackie F. Steele’s motivations, but her campaign to bring about meaningful change is unquestionably paying off.­

Steele, a governor of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce in Japan (CCCJ) and founder and CEO of enjoi Japan K.K., has recently been selected by APAC Entrepreneur magazine as one of their 10 Most Inspiring Japanese Entrepreneurs. The recognition caught her off-guard, she admits — not least because she is originally from Delta, British Columbia, although Nagano Prefecture has been her adopted home since first arriving in Japan in 1997.

“It feels a bit surreal actually,” she told The Canadian. “At first I wondered if I could be in this list as I am not a Japanese national. But I do feel like a 20-year immigrant to Japan and that I am not an expat. I have always lived in the regions and been fully integrated into my communities, so it is perhaps a different experience of inaka belonging compared to expat living in Tokyo.”

“I wanted to be engaged in working with forward-thinking leaders in Japan.”


Steele has taught at leading universities in Canada and Japan for 15 years, including at the University of Tokyo, has a PhD in political science and a master’s in law, has published more than 30 academic works on diversity mainstreaming and served as an advisor to UN conferences focused on gender equality, diversity and disaster risk.

All of which have given her a unique insight into diversity, equity and innovation in corporate culture in Japan and, more often than not, where firms are going badly wrong. Her goal is to help companies and individuals in leadership positions promote diversity and equity to build solidarity across differences — and then reap the rewards.

“I spent some 20 years tracking the glacial progress in Japanese law and public policy wherein gender equality laws have no teeth and women are barely tolerated within the gover­ning political party and the Diet,” she said. “At some point, I felt that researching and teaching about Japanese elite political non-performance on gender equality and the chronic resistance to diverse citizenship was a poor investment of my expertise and of my precious time on earth. 

“I wanted to be engaged in working with forward-thinking leaders in Japan who want to honour diverse talent, who believe in gender equality and who really want to move the dial on these issues for their own companies to be more innovative and more competitive,” she said. “I wanted to surround myself with those stakeholders and share as much as could from the international political science research on ‘diversification strategy’ to help them on their journeys.”

Move the Dial Global Summit in Toronto (2019), FEW x Canadian Embassy Innovation through Diversity Symposium (2020)


It had become apparent to Steele that when DEI was left in the hands of a company’s human resources department, it all too often devolved into an exercise in ticking boxes and top-down, bureaucratic “management” of presumed pro­blems that could cause the company to be on the receiving end of a lawsuit over power harassment, micro-aggressions, misogyny or homophobia.

“I personally think that ‘inclusion’ is an elusive goal that you cannot really measure in a reliable way so as to be helpful,” she said. “It leads to token counting of numbers of women or men, gays or foreigners, when the whole point of DEI is cultural and organizational change towards a diversity-positive environment that honours all kinds of individuality.

“It is not meant to be a bureaucratic ‘box-ticking’ exercise,” she added. “If it is, then it is not authentically grounded in DEI that is tied to business strategy, that values critical thinking and that has C-suite buy-in to drive it to fruition. You can tell the difference right away between these two types of approaches: one is risk-averse, compliance-focused and backward-looking, while the other is innovation-seeking, open-minded and strategic in leveraging diversity of thought and lived experience.”

What is required over the longer term is a concurrent diversification strategy, with multiple targets among new grads, managers, senior middle managers and all the way to the board­room, developing a change management strategy throughout the entire organization.


Ultimately, companies are primarily motivated in innovation if it can be leveraged to improve their profit margins, their sustainability profile and a competitive edge in the market, Steele points out.   

“Leveraging diverse talent from all sources in the population is why DEI is the key to future growth and the future of work,” she said. “I talk about DEI as diversity and equity for innovation. I think the concept of innovation is open-ended in its possibilities. It is not just a neoliberal business concept. It speaks to social innovation, democratic innovation, policy innovation, systems innovation, technological innovation, talent innovation and corporate innovation.

“All of that requires consistent caregiving of workplace happiness, meritocratic recruitment and promotions systems, freedom of conscience inside the corporate ecosystem, and literally all of these angles require equitable relationships and thought diversity to result in reliable out­puts of excellence and creative problem-solving,” she said.

“I think the concept of innovation is open-ended in its possibilities. It is not just a neoliberal business concept.”


Steele particularly enjoys working with business leaders who are struggling with what they should do to advance their company’s existing DEI strategy.

“Diversity is inherent to the Japanese popu­lation and yet it is not being leveraged sufficiently due to hierarchical business cultures that shut down individuality; there are too few processes that invite diversity of thought and too few corporate cultures that welcome and hold space for idea sharing and risk-taking,” she said.

In her work, Steele tries to make the vision of diversity, equity and innovation as a business strategy “relatable and pragmatic to their everyday goals and their overarching strategy of harnessing all the individual creativity of their employees to create more excellence,” she added.

Her workshops in Intersectional Thinking© and Emotionally Intelligent Leadership© lead to a mindset shift, with participants developing a new appreciation for diversity as a Japanese-specific reality as well as a global market concept. They realize that DEI is a matter of innovation and respect for the individuality of every employee, but it is simultaneously not something that undermines or slows down their business goals. On the contrary, Steele points out, it “will power up and accelerate their competitive edge, if done holistically and authentically.”

26th International Women in Business Conference, Tokyo (2021)


Steele can list a series of milestones in the last two years, including working with the Embassy of Canada to Japan in Tokyo to co-host a speakers’ series for the foreign diplomatic community on diversity and coronavirus vulnerabilities, the launch of the “Diversity Rocks Innovation” podcast series and a series of collaborations with APAC-based specialist DEI consulting firms. Launching in January 2022 is a bespoke DEI x EQ Leadership Program for Men called Wolfpack that will “specifically support and empower diverse masculinities in a disruptive, men-only safe and brave space spread over a six-month learning journey.”

However, one of the most memorable achie­vements was being selected for the Social Change Maker accelerator program operated by ImpacTech and the Nippon Foundation. Steele said she initially applied to the program to learn more about how to manage the business side of her company’s operations, and found the experience extremely helpful. In addition to gaining a better understanding of market testing, product development and funding sources, the program introduced her to mentors who shared “really pragmatic and down-to-earth” information that has proved invaluable.

To drive home the idea of intercultural diversity and global mindset as a learned growth opportunity for corporate leaders, rather than something predetermined by racial or genetic background, Steele shared her spouse’s running joke about them as a “banana and egg couple.” Albeit Japanese-descent Canadian, Mitsuo (Mits) Matsushita was raised to speak English and French (no Japanese) and grew up playing hockey on the streets of St. Léonard, amidst a highly immigrant neigh­bourhood in Montréal. In Japan, it is Steele who navigates for their family in Japanese, and is the one who intentionally chose to forge a deep connection to Japan since age 16, leading to work and immigration to her rural Nagano community. As the “Japanese parent,” she ensures their children speak Japanese at a high level and participate in key Japanese cultural traditions such as shichi-go-san.

“Leveraging diverse talent from all sources in the population is why DEI is the key to future growth and the future of work.”

Yet there are clear parallels in what she is doing today and the role she accepted 24 years ago, working in the city hall in Koshoku City (now Chikuma City), Nagano Prefecture, as a coordinator for international relations.

“Ironically, I feel that what I do now oddly resembles the kind of work I was doing then to promote interculturalism, gender equality, respects for all facets of human diversity and the democratic imperative to honour all forms and expression of creative individuality to build a vibrant, resilient community and country.”  

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