GEC #12 The Japanese Case


Author: Future Manager Research Center

It is my great privilege to be asked to share my thoughts here for the FMA Gender Equality Committee on behalf of en world Japan, FMA’s partner here in Tokyo. I would like to take a slightly different approach to my colleagues who have shared thus far and start with our story here at en world.

I will start with the context. As many of you may be aware, here in Japan we are grappling with a massive demographic challenge. The aging population has left us with a huge gap in people and talent to meet the needs in the market. Among other efforts to fill the gap, the government in Japan has been working very hard to increase female participation in the workforce. These efforts have resulted in Japan even surpassing the US in female participation in the workforce within the past 2 years. This is an achievement to be proud of for Japan but hides a particular challenge that still needs addressing.

Despite the fact that the women in Japan participate in the workforce at a rate higher than their counterparts in the US, a high percentage of these women, who are among the most highly educated in the world, are employed in part-time jobs that do not harness their full skills, education and experience. They are often said to be “under-employed” in part-time service jobs that allow them flexibility to look after their families, especially ensuring that their children get to and from school/childcare. Trying to balance responsibilities at home with the demands of a career track job often discourages women from choosing to re-enter full-time, career-track employment when they are ready to return to the workforce after having a child. This is further exacerbated by a severe lack of affordable childcare options that are flexible and readily available in urban centers in Japan.

Of course, as career consultants we understand very deeply the importance of having these highly skilled women participating at full capacity in the work force. Not only is it the right thing to do for us to support women looking to reach their full career potential, but it is also the practical solution for improving the quality and size of the talent pool. Now, please allow me to relate how this is important to the story of en world.

At en world, we do not struggle with diversity from a gender perspective. We consistently maintain a healthy balance of around 50% men and women in our team here. However, several years ago, especially as we were growing rapidly, we recognized that we were struggling with the inclusion of women in the management layer. As the young women we hired grew into experienced and successful recruitment Consultants with leadership potential, we saw many of them making the choice to leave en world, not for leadership roles with our competitors but for internal HR and talent acquisition roles with our clients. Over several years this talent drain left us with a senior management team sapped almost entirely of gender diversity. We knew we needed to make changes. We knew that we could not stand as partners to our clients and leaders in our industry if we could not fix this crucial problem at home.

With the support of an organization called The Dream Collective, we started our D&I journey in September 2018. During our project with The Dream Collective, we learned a lot about our challenges, especially with unconscious bias, that were holding us and our “should be” future female leaders back. The most important lesson we learned was that our young potential female leaders did not foresee the flexibility required in our organization to be able to confidently pursue a career as a Consultant, Manager and beyond at en world. Just like the working mothers who are reluctant to actively pursue career-track jobs after starting a family, our female Consultants feared that they would not have the time, tools and flexibility to successfully pursue their careers in our organization. We were inadvertently driving these women to lower paying jobs that offered more flexibility and proper rules and systems to support working parents.

The great thing we realized was that the first step was not so difficult. At the core, our culture and our compensation system have always been focused around results. As such, the key was to create a work system and structure that allowed full flexibility in line with full accountability to deliver results and high quality service. We got to work on enacting this transformation and have, over these last 2 years, taken great strides toward a more flexible working style integrating remote work (along with the technology required to support it) with flex time. We have begun to see results with more working mothers coming back from childcare leave to resume roles as successful Consultants and even Team Managers. More importantly, we hear from our working mothers that they appreciate this opportunity to continue pursuing the rewarding career as a recruitment Consultant on their own terms.

We still have a very long way to go as we need to raise from scratch a group of female leaders to fill the gap we allowed to grow over time. This cannot be done overnight. However, we have made a start. The biggest challenge we are wrestling with now is how to bridge that gap to the next generation without enough role models yet to serve for our growing pool of potential female talent. This is a challenge we are wrestling with day by day. At least I can say that we now know what we did not know and we are now on the path to improving our inclusion of women in our management team.

As a next step, we will be looking to identify high potential women across our organization. Members of the senior management team will then be designated to reach out to these women as sponsors. We want to ensure that these future female leaders feel that their career aspirations are understood, that they are valued and that they have a voice. If we can do this well as a next step, it will help us to take the next step in diversifying our management team and better equip us to serve as a role model and advisor to our Clients and Candidates who are also striving towards empowering the female leaders of the future.