Diverse Leads

Meet the CCCJ’s new Global Diversity Management Committee

The diversity conversation has pervaded political and social dialogue in Japan for half a decade. It was ignited by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Womenomics agenda, part of his wider economic recovery plan, Abenomics.

Although there has been a strong focus on gender and women’s empowerment, the topic has adopted a wider stance, looking at components that can help solve the regular issues that permeate businesses in Japan.

Akiko Kosuda
Honorary CCCJ Board Member
Kiyo Weiss
General Manager for Japan, Air Canada
Annamarie Sasagawa Director of Global Corporate Culture and Literature, Kao Corporation

The Canadian Chamber of Commerce in Japan (CCCJ) has formed the Global Diversity Management Committee — previously the Gender Diversity Roundtable — to provide a place for chamber members to develop personally, and help businesses compete on the global stage.

The Canadian spoke with Akiko Kosuda, honorary CCCJ board member; Kiyo Weiss, general manager for Japan at Air Canada; and Annamarie Sasagawa, director of global corporate culture and literature at Kao Corporation about plans for the committee, the chamber’s recent event on communication, and what global diversity management means to them.

Stay ahead

As Japan’s participation in international business grows, leaders are increasingly being required to grasp how to properly communicate with, and understand, global markets.

“We really want this committee to influence CCCJ members as well as non-members to really think about the future of Japan and the fact that we are lacking in diversity in terms of gender and global [awareness],” Weiss explained.

The World Economic Forum’s 2016 Global Gender Gap Report reveals that Japan then sat in 111th place out of 144 countries while Canada sat in 35th position. The 2017 report is no better; Japan has been knocked to 114th place — well below the global weighted average — while Canada has leapt to 16th position.

A core part of this, Sasagawa believes, is due to political representation. “It always comes down to women’s representation in national politics, because there are fewer female than male representatives in the National Diet,” she said.

The new committee aims to provide a space for the business community to share experiences and ideas. Kosuda believes that, rather than having a series of solo speakers, having roundtables will make a big difference.

“In my 30 years of working in gender diversity, [I have found that] the best and most effective way to develop ourselves and others as leaders of gender diversity is to teach each other, learn, practice and experience,” she explained.

Topics such as boss management, career progression, and family considerations have been a core part of the discussion, but global leadership is a topic that would help to address deeper issues in the Japanese corporate world.

The plan is to hold these discussions every three months. One recent event was about high- and low-context communication.

High and low

In the 1970s, American anthropologist Edward T. Hall introduced the concept of high- and low-context cultures to explain the differences among societies and how they communicate. High-context cultures value traditions, long-lasting relationships, non-verbal signals, indirect communication, and group harmony. They are slow to change and have strong boundaries. This is how business traditionally is conducted in Japan.

Low context cultures, meanwhile, see more short-term relationships and explicit communication. They value individual needs, and the conversation can change quickly.

Source: The Global View.

These differences, among others, can easily lead to miscommunication and misunderstanding in business between countries with different cultures.

“Japanese may not speak a lot; we speak less. Maybe 80 percent of communication among the Japanese is non-verbal. It is body language. We expect the listener to read between the lines,” Kosuda explained.

That said, Weiss noted that many people spoke up at the event. “People came up on the stage to speak, and a lot of them were Japanese. That is quite uncommon, because we don’t really speak up much. So that was really good and we want to continue that format.”

The event attracted some 20 people, foreign and Japanese, with experience outside Japan. The committee is hoping to involve more men to focus away from a female-orientated dialogue.

Diverse views

For Weiss, Kosuda and Sasagawa, global diversity management has different meanings, reflecting their different personal experiences.

“This is a topic I’m really interested in, both professionally and personally. I work at a large Japanese company and a lot of my work involves intercultural communication: trying to make the most of the diverse perspectives and insights of people in our global organization,” Sasagawa said.

“I think it’s a source of competitive strength, and a way for organizations, countries and groups of people to create value by leveraging the different perspectives of each person,” she added.

For Weiss, her concern is rooted in family. With a daughter who is American–Japanese, she said that, “As a mother I want to be clear on what Japan is right now and how Japan should develop, for my daughter and for the people in Japan that I work with.”

“I want Japan to be stronger and I want Japan to be more influential. For that, I think we have a lot to learn from Canada.”

For 30 years, at Japanese and foreign companies, Kosuda has been working in the areas of people development and organization behaviour, with a focus on global mindsets and gender diversity. She now works as an executive coach for senior management to help them understand foreign mindsets in business.

How they do it

The committee’s next topic will see NHK newscaster Kaori Nagao, talking about the issues that the EU faces, and about her time working in Belgium. A country divided by invisible borders, Belgium has three distinct ethnicities, each with its own culture. The three constitutionally recognized federal communities are the French-speaking Walloons, the Dutch-speaking Flemish, and the German-speaking community. How this mixture works, Kosuda believes, provides an important lesson.

“In Japan there’s one language, one race. Therefore I think we must learn from the world how diversity is working and learn about diversity in depth,” she said.

Topics involving communication will continue to be addressed by the committee, and are expected to include the understanding, respecting and accepting of other people’s cultures.

Japanese may not speak a lot; we speak less. Maybe 80 per cent of communication among the Japanese is non-verbal.

All three women have specific ways they see communication working best within their organizations. Sasagawa highlighted the concept of discussion and moving past this into dialogue, where people converse on a more personal level, connecting emotionally at the level of values and vision.

“We have a series of guided discussion programs that we use. It’s basically organizational development, with the focus on dialogue rather than discussion,” she said.

Kosuda noted that sometimes silence really is golden, “A good leader speaks less and encourages people to talk. Sometimes I coach the leader to shut up, even if it is embarrassing because it’s silent. Eventually somebody will start to talk. Silence is good.”

Weiss emphasized the need for her staff to provide solutions when they come to her with issues. “I want them to think about the solution first, then we can make the process much quicker.”

There are multiple barriers that pose problems for Japanese companies looking to go global, including cumbersome decision-making processes, a hierarchy based culture and the language barrier. Nevertheless, events such as those offered by the committee are a determined step forward in the creation of more diverse and global leaders.

As Japan’s participation in international business grows, leaders are increasingly being required to grasp how to communicate with, and understand, global markets.

The event on high- and low-context communication highlighted the differences in the way societies communicate.

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