Shawn Lim
Sep 29, 2023

WFA census shows Japan faces the highest inclusivity challenges

Japan trails far behind in terms of how companies deal with discrimination, negative behaviours, mental health, and diversity and inclusion perceptions, according to WFA's second WFA global census.

WFA census shows Japan faces the highest inclusivity challenges

The anticipated enhancement of inclusivity within the advertising sector has yet to materialise, as indicated by the results from the follow-up to the World Federation of Advertisers' 2021 global census on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). 

The second WFA global census offered a comprehensive view of the state of workplace inclusivity and the presence of negative behavior across several countries.Campaign has exclusive insights into the APAC findings of the WFA DEI survey, building upon the global revelations released in June

While some countries, like the Philippines, India, and New Zealand, demonstrate positive trends to create a sense of belonging and culture for employees, others, such as Japan and Malaysia, face specific challenges that require attention to create more inclusive and discrimination-free work environments. 

Japan faced challenges in the company sense of belonging category. A higher sense of workplace belonging has a direct correlation to better work satisfaction, higher wellbeing scores and even better mental health. 

In Japan, only one in two (52%) experience a sense of belonging in the workplace. The finding underscores challenges like the inability to be seen and heard at the workplace, or freely share opinions and other unfair treatment. WFA finds concerns of negative behavior such as being unfairly spoken over, undervalued compared to colleagues, and experiencing bullying or harassment are paramount. In a substantial positive sign, scores age (84%) and gender (86%) discrimination are fairly good.   

Switching gears to action taken: Only 16% of those surveyed in the country believe their company is actively taking steps toward diversity and inclusion. DEI standards are low in Japan by any benchmark; that's not the news here, but the lack of action on the company's management amounts to a high attrition rate. The ability to retain talent indicates high productivity; nearly one-quarter (23%) say they are likely to leave the industry due to a lack of inclusion or discrimination.

Further, one in three (32%) respondents think the industry's overall DEI rates have improved.

(L-R) Kyoko Matsushita, Simon Lendrum, Rose Herceg and Shufen Goh

Addressing the findings, Kyoko Matsushita, the chief executive of Japan at WPP Japan, notes a recent World Economic Forum (WEF) report measuring gender parity ranked Japan 125th out of 146 countries in 2023 (down from 116th in 2022), so a clear first step for marketers is to ensure that women have a seat at the table and that they are heard.  

She tells Campaign that what leaders say and do makes up to a 70% difference in whether an individual reports feeling included. That is why WPP has launched a global training and workshop programme, ‘Inclusion as a Skill,’ to address this issue directly. 

“For companies generally, it’s about creating an environment where diverse teams thrive and equity is cascaded down into all areas of the organisation,” explains Matsushita.

“This means enabling conversations about compensation, skills, training and performance to ensure everyone is set up for success. WPP's Female Leaders of Tomorrow programme and our employee resource group Stella, coupled with male-allyship, will all contribute to women thriving in the workplace in Japan.” 

However, Shufen Goh, co-founder and principal at R3, urges the industry to look beyond geography. While individual markets matter in terms of localisation and implementation, she says there are some base principles that all companies should strive to achieve in their efforts to improve DEI. 

“The most important first step is to understand the needs of your people. What are the needs at each different career level, at specific ages, or at various life stages? What are the ambitions of your teams, and individual contributors? If you're not interested in the needs of your people, no initiatives can raise the bar,” explains Goh. 

“Focus on individual wellbeing - this supersedes cultural nuance. What is good for your people? What will help them do the best work that they can? How can they thrive while driving growth for your business?” 

In addition, Goh says companies need to help their people know their rights and the rights of the people who they work with.  

“Sometimes, it is necessary to bring external help into the organisation to ensure agnostic and objective counsel and advice,” Goh adds. 

What about other APAC countries?

The Philippines consistently scored well in the company sense of belonging category, with 75% of respondents feeling a strong sense of belonging at their company and 79% reporting that they feel like they belong. Similar statistics came out of India. People demonstrated a strong sense of belonging at the company (72%) and high percentages of respondents felt valued in their direct teams (86%). 

New Zealand also excelled in company sense of belonging, with 75% of respondents experiencing a strong sense of belonging. This score highlights a positive work environment where employees feel connected to their companies. 

New Zealand respondents had high scores across various discrimination factors when asked about the absence of discrimination. This indicates a positive environment where respondents feel less discriminated against based on age, gender, race, and other factors. 

Similarly, India reports high scores in the absence of discrimination, particularly regarding age, with 95% of respondents feeling that they are not personally discriminated against based on age.  

When assessing diversity and inclusion efforts, Singapore is progressing well in this area, with 54% of respondents believing that their company is actively taking steps to be more diverse and inclusive. 

The survey also sheds light on employee retention based on inclusion and discrimination experiences. India and New Zealand perform well in this regard. 

For example, only 28% of respondents in India are likely to leave their current organisation due to a lack of inclusion or discrimination. In New Zealand, only 10% of respondents are likely to leave their current organisation due to these issues. 

When asked about industry progress in diversity and inclusion over the past two years, India emerges as a positive outlier. 

India leads in believing that things have improved in terms of the industry becoming more diverse and inclusive, with 61% of respondents sharing this view. 

Rose Herceg, the president for Australia and New Zealand at WPP, says New Zealand Aotearoa thrives in building workplaces that are not only accepting of all but also celebrate diversity. 

“It's fundamentally about practising inclusion as a skill requiring knowledge, practice and action,” Herceg explains to Campaign

“When our people feel secure and confident to share their ideas, it directly impacts creativity and the power of collaboration – which is our competitive advantage.” 

Simon Lendrum, the chief executive of the Commercial Communications Council (Comms Council), an industry body that represents the NZ communications industry, tells Campaign companies in the country have recognised that if they are to be fully representative of the communities that make up the country, then agencies need to be mindful of inclusive policies to ensure the agency is a welcoming environment that allows everyone to be their true selves at work.

"This doesn’t mean just employing people from different backgrounds; it means interrogating all the customs and behaviours that might be considered an agency’s ‘culture’ and reviewing them from another perspective, ensuring it is not alienating or at worst, derogatory or discriminatory to anyone," explains Lendrum.

"We hope to provide tools and recommendations to our members to ensure that we continue to see progress in addressing the gaps in representation from key communities, and to ensure that agencies can evolve their environments, working practices and behaviours to make every staff member, regardless of background, be the best that they can be. Only then will we be leveraging the talent that we have in our industry to the fullest."

Key APAC findings of WFA DEI census

The initiative is supported by a coalition of 10 global marketing and advertising organisations – WFA, VoxComm, Campaign, Kantar, Advertising Week, Cannes Lions, Effie Worldwide, IAA, Global Web Index (GWI) and Adweekas well as more than 160 organisations at a local level, making it the marketing industry’s single biggest collaboration to date. It is also backed by leading companies from across the marketing and advertising ecosystem, including Bayer, BP, Danone, Diageo, Dentsu, The Estée Lauder Companies, Haleon, Havas, KraftHeinz, L’Oréal, McCann, Meta, Philips, Reckitt, Sanofi and WPP.

It has responses from a diverse group of participants, including men, women, non-binary individuals, transgender individuals, LGBQIA+ individuals, and those with disabilities.  

Respondents represented various company types, including brands, creative agencies, media agencies, media companies, industry associations, production houses, publishers, research/insights agencies, freelancers, PR agencies, digital agencies, tech companies, and others. 



Campaign Asia

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