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20 September 2010

Inspiration from the east

Konnichiwa from Tokyo!

I’ve had an amazing time in Tokyo, where PwC Japan hosted its second annual Women’s Network Conference, connecting its women to PwC leadership, peers, and exploring career strategies.

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I have a special place in my heart for Japan.  At university I roomed with Mariko (whose mother is Japanese) for four years, and thus know some basic Japanese phrases and how to roll sushi.  Against all odds, in my college town of Williamsburg, Virginia, I also once performed with Mariko (and two other Japanese friends) a traditional Japanese Fan Dance, decked out in full costume and mask (an event which Mariko vehemently urged me not to share with my colleagues in our Japanese firm when I told her I was coming to Tokyo and thought this nugget of information might ingratiate me). 

Coincidentally, Mariko now works for The Wall Street Journal in Tokyo and has recently covered gender dynamics in corporate Japan.  Her articles explore a surge of “girl power” sweeping the nation amidst a slow pace of change in the global context.  Despite its 101st ranking on the World Economic Forum’s Corporate Gender Gap Index, the Bank of Japan recently appointed its first female branch manager in history; and Japan Airlines Corp. announced its first female pilot captain.  Renho, Japan’s most powerful female politician has said that female talent in Japan is not yet fully utilized - to remedy this, the country’s possible future-prime minister advocates better childcare support from policy-makers as well as a mindset-shift by men and older generations.

Japan has the World’s third-largest economy, recently losing its second-place slot to China (only five years ago China’s economy was half as big as Japan’s).  An article in The Economist suggests this slip has resulted in large part due to Japan’s relative inability to capitalize on its female population (only 8% of managers in the country are female compared with 40% in the U.S.).  Some employers, however, are working to change this trend.  Japanese brewer Kirin, for example, seeks to double the number of its female managers by 2015, and cosmetic giant Shiseido Co. aims to achieve a 30% ratio of female leaders by 2013 (its current ratio is 19% - quite high considering that women make up 1.2% of senior executives in Japan).

PwC Japan also promises to be at the vanguard of change. 

I was energized by what I found at the PwC Japan Women’s Network Conference: a large cohort of enthusiastic women buttressed by the strong support of leadership.  Koji Hatsukawa, PwC Japan’s CEO used levity in his opening remarks, admitting he was daunted as one of the few men in the room addressing hundreds of women. 

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Hatsukawa-san stressed that while networking between females is important, the issue of progressing more women to leadership must be a goal shared by men and by leadership.  Clearly the issue is front-of-mind for PwC Japan’s leaders - Hatsukawa-san and PwC Japan’s Board actively participated in the conference.  Some of leadership’s key messages to the audience:

The participation and advancement of women is a talent issue at the heart of PwC Japan’s business agenda.

There must be deep, thoughtful discussion about how to retain and advance more women as it is a complex, multi-faceted issue.

Leading Japanese businesswoman Claire Chino, Corporate Counsel at Itochu Corporation, World Economic Forum Global Leader, and classically trained pianist to boot, delivered a rousing keynote speech to the audience.  “Gender parity is a tool to enhance competition and innovation,” she said, noting that to become a truly global company in today’s world, “change is necessary.”  Chino-san supports new business models in Japan and shared strategies (both personal and corporate-wide) to achieve gender parity, including:

Better communication of positive role models

Creating a personal career vision (supported by clear annual development plan goals)

Recruiting more women into business directly from university

Two-way (or “reverse”) mentoring in which women learn from (mostly male) managers and vice versa

External networking

After I took the stage to share PwC’s global diversity initiatives with the audience, participants brainstormed in breakout groups focusing on three themes: creating an ideal world (what would an ideal working environment look like?); effective self-expression; and business relationship development.

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Results from the breakouts were then fed back directly to management - PwC Japan Board members engaged in a conversation with the audience around the ideas that had been generated.  The Board expressed full commitment to enhancing external networking for PwC women, exploring ideas around flexible working, getting women more international experience, and using women’s strengths (relationship-building and courage were given as examples) to enhance and grow the business. 

Board member Shiro Uchida made the conversation personal, expressing his wish for a better working environment for his daughters, who participate in Japan’s professional workforce (working hours in the country are amongst the highest in the world) as he’s witnessed their own challenges from a father’s point-of-view.  Uchida-san assured attendees that they have leadership’s full backing as PwC works to provide an even more supportive working environment and stronger networks for all of PwC’s talented people so that it becomes a role model firm in Japan. 

In closing, Hatsukawa-san assured participants that while retaining and advancing more women within Japan’s socioeconomic framework is not a simple task, leadership is determined to transform PwC’s culture in a realistic, yet swift manner. PwC Japan’s CEO also announced that the firm will work towards tangible targets of women in leadership and expanded the diversity conversation, sharing his own vision for the working environment of the future: a place where different viewpoints, cultures, and thinking styles are leveraged even more than they are today.  Hatsukawa-san suggested that next year’s conference include male invitees (stay tuned for my next blog which will focus on engaging men in diversity conversations).

It’s difficult to describe how special it has been for me to participate in the Women’s Network Conference and experience the bustling, spotless, and incredibly organized city of Tokyo.  As I walked to the office, beautiful Japanese characters - Nihongo - bracketed each street like vertical artwork; the meticulously pruned, bright-green Hamarikyu Gardens sprung out vibrantly amidst Shiodome’s mammoth gray skyscrapers; the sharp odour of fresh seafood wafted temptingly from the streets of Tsukiji Fish Market – the largest of its kind in the world; the staccato meter of the Japanese language permeated the air; and my taste buds were tantalized by the freshest sushi I’ve ever eaten. 

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Mostly, I was moved by the hospitality and energy of my colleagues.  Rimi Goto, a female associate with PwC Japan told me she aspires to an international career someday and that she was inspired to see what PwC women are achieving globally.  There was a palpable hunger from Rimi and many other women I spoke with to pursue a rich career.  And by the way – as an added personal bonus, we had an impromptu dinner reunion of The Fan Dance quartet from my sophomore year in university – all four members were in Tokyo at the same time!  Semi-embarrassing photos were taken in Fan Dance regalia (masks and fans) in public places such as Shiodome Station.

Gambatte!  And arigato gozaimasu to my Japanese colleagues and friends.

à bientôt,


P.S. – weather in Japan was warm and balmy!


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Glad you enjoyed Japan. I couldn't agree more that men must adopt the women's question as a priority too. Until they do, and until we make a huge effort to include them too, it's too easy to dismiss the topic. Everyone benefits when we have true gender equality!
Incidentally, was recently asked by a TV company, if I had million dollars to spend on a programme, what would I make? I said a programme showing a new business being set up to be entirely gender neutral! Now wouldn't that be interesting?
Regrads all, Jane

Thank you for this summary of the Women's Network event in Japan. It is interesting to see that we share some of the same issues and goals as our colleagues in Japan. I know that as long as we continue to be open in our discussions we will learn from each other and slowly change the culture to something where we can support our staff.

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