Takeshi Muro
Oct 14, 2016

Incorporating diversity to solve social issues in Japan and beyond

I believe 2-D diversity is the key to solving social issues in Japan, writes Hakuhodo's Takeshi Muro.

Takeshi Muro
Takeshi Muro

What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Japan: Sushi? Tempura? Mount Fuji?

Not a lot of people know that the word 'tempura' originated from Portuguese, and that curry was introduced to Japan by an Indian nationalist, Subhas Chandra Bose. No one even suspects that the Japanese Ramen Noodle, which has become a world sensation, originated from China.

Japan has transformed the Chinese ramen noodle and Indian Curry into Japanese comfort foods that appeal to foodies around the world. In a sense, Japan is a natural curator, editor, or creator good at importing and renovating external cultures to become its own. This is also exemplified in the success of the Japanese automotive industry, and more recently, music band Babymetal’s fusing of J-pop and heavy metal to create a new music genre.

On the other hand, what about Japan’s diversity and capability to collaborate with other cultures? Japan lacks diversity—represented by the Japanese expression 'Shima-guni konjo', meaning 'island-country spirit' or Japanese insularism. Non-Japanese in Japan made up just 1.6% of the population in 2013 according to OECD, and religious beliefs, gender, ethnicity, sexual preference, and disabilities can sometimes hinder employment or promotion opportunities.

According to the Leadership Communication Monitor 2016 conducted in 10 countries by Hakuhodo’s alliance partner Ketchum, many people feel that gender and sexual preference are the greatest reasons for unequal leadership opportunities in Japan—the highest percentage out of the 10 countries surveyed (see the chart below, an online survey by Ketchum Global Research & Analysis and Ipsos, n=3,000, 300 per country).

Source: Ketchum/Ipsos

But why is diversity so important? Sylvia Ann Hewlett, Melinda Marshall, and Laura Sherbin defined “2-D diversity” by combining inherent (gender, ethnicity, sexual preference, etc.) and acquired (professional background, international experience, etc.) characteristics in the Harvard Business Review (December, 2013). They concluded that “employees of firms with 2-D diversity are 45 percent likelier to report a growth in market share over the previous year and 70 percent likelier to report that the firm captured a new market”, and that “2-D diversity unlocks innovation by creating an environment where ‘outside the box’ ideas are heard”.

I believe 2-D diversity is the key to solving social issues in Japan. It could be a direct solution to the aging population and low birthrate, and provide the basis for innovative solutions to the issues Japan has been unable to solve independently.

In 2007, the former president of the University of Tokyo, Dr. Hiroshi Komiyama, defined Japan as a “problem-saddled developed country”. Japan is overflowing with globally unprecedented social issues—low birthrate, super-aging population, insufficient natural resources, and environmental pollution. It is natural for Japan to tackle these issues ahead of the world and export the solutions to countries that may face similar challenges. Yet according to a Nikkei column in May, Japan has made no substantial progress or contribution to the world in solving these issues in the last 9 years. In fact, according to the Japan Orthopedic Association, social issues have worsened in Japan with the number of people estimated to potentially require nursing care in the future rising to 47 million and more than 24 thousand people committing suicide per year—more than 5 times the number of victims from traffic accidents.

Japan is finally realising the importance of diversity, and is trying to incorporate women, especially working mothers, and international talents into its workforce; however, just setting a KPI and achieving a number or percentage are not enough. We can find 2-D diversity resources inside and outside a company and discover them even in other industries and startups. True diversity is more than just numbers, but also collaborating with various resources and inventing an open innovation environment to solve social issues.

At the same time, it has been difficult for Japanese people to successfully manage a 2-D diverse team. Based on my experiences with 2-D diverse teams in client consulting projects at University of Michigan Ross School of Business, Cannes Lions Masters of Creativity Program where our team won the Mondelez competition, and lots of cross-border projects at Hakuhodo International, I believe the following steps are critical for diverse teams:

  1. Setting and sharing of team goals and norms that members can respect and accept
  2. Taking ample time for team building and understanding each other’s 2-D diversity background
  3. Showing a positive “green light” to all ideas generated by 2-D diversity backgrounds
  4. Assigning a role to each member and encouraging each member to contribute and present

Fortunately, according to the PR Society of Japan, Japanese PR agencies consist of more than 55 percent women and maintain a percentage higher than that of other industries. In the advertising world, women’s perspectives are becoming more and more important, and the number of international projects and opportunities to work with innovative startups are increasing day by day. Therefore we, the communication industry, can emphasize the importance of diversity and exploit our potential to lead the movement to solve social issues through diversity initiatives.

I am looking forward to solving social issues with the 2-D diversified talents reading this article inside or outside Japan, and hope we can transform Japan into a “problem-solving developed country” by the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.

Takeshi Muro is planning director, Network Development, Hakuhodo International

This article appeared first on Campaign Japan: ダイバーシティーが切り開く課題解決先進国への道 

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