Ivanka Trump & Female Empowerment in Japan

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Ivanka Trump & Female Empowerment in Japan

Posted on 13 November 2017 in Japanese Corporate Culture, News, womenomics -
Ivanka Trump

She’s blond, she dresses well, is a not so outspoken ‘feminist’ and manages to ‘have it all’, balancing her roles as successful entrepreneur, mother of three, and style icon. No wonder Ivanka Trump has become a media darling in Japan.

So why the empty seats when she went to Japan to talk about ‘female empowerment’? Maybe because ‘empowerment’ is a culturally contextualised concept and what Ivanka Trump represents is idealised within Japan but far from reality. Her ‘reality’ is something most Japanese women won’t ever achieve-not because they aren’t as beautiful or successful as Ivanka, but because societal norms surrounding gendered behaviour are so culturally different. I imagine most people who attended this conference wanted something a bit more meaningful, especially given the lack of progress for gender equality within Japan. According to the latest figures from the recently published Global Gender Gap Reports, Japan dropped even further down the rankings in 2017 to 114 out of 144 countries, with the highest gaps being, yet again, in the number of females in management positions or within parliament.

Gendered norms in Japan

The gendered norms in Japan are ingrained within society and are one of the barriers to realising the targets set by Abe’s ‘Womenomics’ policies back in 2012, not least because the way women are expected to act are still at odds with the traits needed to get up into the higher ranks of business. Japan is awash with portrayals of strong women but somewhere along the line, they get pressured into reflecting the archetypal feminine traits that Japanese society feels comfortable with or they are criticised as being too aggressive or unfeminine. When the trailer of the recent Wonder Woman film first came out in Japan, it was automatically given the cute ‘kawaii’ voice-over treatment to make it more palatable. Encouragingly, Japanese women called this out on social media, most probably recognising that constantly being expected to act in a ‘cute’ and ‘non-confrontational’ way is not always appropriate and will certainly not support any female empowerment initiatives.

Demographic time-bomb

Japan is facing a demographic time-bomb. If Japan is committed to solving this demographic time-bomb through creating a business environment that supports increased female labour alongside higher fertility rates, it will entail grass-roots societal as well as meaningful governmental intervention. Japan may soon be able to defend itself again but if they don’t start tackling this issue on a deeper level at every opportunity they get, they may not have a population to defend.

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Theresa May’s Visit to Japan & Brexit Negotations: Will arrogance hinder UK Japan Business?

Posted on 15 September 2017 in Inter-Cultural Training, Japanese Corporate Culture, News -
Theresa-May-shoes-Japan-tea-ceremony-847731

Theresa May’s visit to Japan & Brexit Negotiations: Will arrogance hinder UK Japan Business?

Theresa May’s recent visit to Japan may have been a good PR stunt but where do we stand now with Japan? The highly entertaining tea-ceremony and comments such as: “I like your dress”, “we have a good relationship” and the all-important “we will commit to a trade deal after Brexit”, were certainly reassuring but should be contextualised within the niceties often seen within Japanese negotiations. These were not false platitudes given by Abe to May, they are important parts of doing business in Japan-tatemae and relationship building- and should be read as such (reading between the lines is another important aspect of doing business with the Japanese). To assume otherwise would be arrogant, which in our current position, is not ideal. The fact is that many Japanese companies are considering something that is against all their business principles-ditching long-term business commitments to the UK- and there will be more to follow. The risk is simply too high (risk is the bottom line for all their business decisions.)

Nurturing Relationships with the Japanese

We certainly would be wise to nurture our relationship with the Japanese-they are one of our most important trading partners bringing with them high levels of job creation and long-term investment into training, education and cultural endeavours, many of which go unnoticed or unappreciated in the Western world of ‘business is business’. The simple fact is, we do business and form relationships very differently. Anyone attending the Hitachi Rail opening ceremony last year should have noticed the difference between the Japanese side’s sentiments and the British side just from listening to the speeches alone. Furthermore, the way David Cameron and George Osborne mentioned investments made into the UK from Japan at the ceremony (Nissan committed to massive investment into their Sunderland operations on that same day) with George then hotfooting it to China to tout for bidders for HS2 the very next day showed a clear contrast of our government’s mentality with the Japanese, who favour long-term relationships, loyalty and trust.

Arrogance may be our downfall

The detail-sparse and rather delusional “we are still incredibly important” flavour of Brexit negotiations mingled with a somewhat admirable British philosophy of “flying by the seat of our pants” does not in any way appeal to the Japanese. Brexit goes against the Japanese preference for long-term stability, an absolute need for details and a low-risk environment. There will also be an expectation of us meeting the obligations they would automatically expect from their investments here, which are currently neither forthcoming nor in any way deliverable. Instead, the lack of clarity and  policies based on rhetoric and arrogance currently coming from the British Government are making us look even more ‘risky’.

The UK is now a country divided by out-of-touch and in some cases quite dangerous politicians who, through a misinformed manipulation of people based in the regions who were voting against a neglect that has never been addressed rather than membership of the EU, have no real Brexit mandate from the British public-just more disillusioned people living outside of London and a negotiating charade with angry Europeans.

The fact that Downing Street were “surprised” by the demands outlined in a letter from the Japanese to the British Government regarding Brexit expectations and that Theresa May was subsequently “vexed” by the decision of the Japanese banks to leave the UK really does show a worrying level of arrogance. If we are not careful, this arrogance will stand in the way of another admirable British philosophy: our ability to “make the most out of a bad situation”. The environment we are offering now to the Japanese is not the right one. Recent comments in the press that the Japanese are being too polite to tell us don’t go far enough. They are telling us-it’s just that we’re too arrogant to listen!

For Japanese companies/executives in the UK: “Understanding why Brexit happened2

Find out more about British society and how Brexit came about by exploring Britain’s political landscape, finding out what the British people in the regions really think, why they actually voted for Brexit and understanding the different ideologies currently affecting British politics and society. We offer 1:1 Skype courses or in-house lectures on this subject aimed specifically at foreign executives in the UK or companies looking to invest here. Please contact us for further information.

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A Conversation with the Japanese First Lady about Womenomics

Posted on 12 May 2017 in News, womenomics -
With Akie Abe and Madame Tsuruoka

I had the great privilege of having lunch with the Japanese first lady Akie Abe on her recent visit to the UK. Given her unassigned but very important role as a figurehead for women in Japan and her involvement in raising the awareness of the issues surrounding female empowerment, I couldn’t help steering the conversation to ask her about the progress of ‘womenomics’ in Japan, especially since I run corporate female empowerment training and am carrying out academic research into how Japan can adapt their gendered cultural behaviours through education.

She spoke about how the Japanese government is prioritising the promotion of women in the workforce and albeit slow, there are some signs of progress. She agreed that the traditional corporate culture within Japan does not allow women (and men) to leave work at reasonable hours, so family life can suffer. Levels of stress are increasing amongst families trying to balance the economic need for women to go back to work alongside running a family. Domestic violence and child abuse are on also on the rise as a manifestation of this stress-she recently visited a domestic violence centre in Kobe. She also feels that Japanese women lack confidence and don’t develop themselves outside of work enough. As well as tackling the work/life imbalance typical of Japanese corporate life, this may well be another key to female empowerment. By cultivating an identity outside of work and families, women can feel more confident in their abilities. I personally couldn’t agree more being a mother, entrepreneur, lecturer, semi-professional bassoonist & pianist and amateur kick-boxer!

I also asked her which Western women she admires and she mentioned Cherie Blair and Laura Bush-both incredibly supportive first ladies, independent in their own rights and strong advocates for causes they cared about- a possible reflection of Akie Abe’s own independent and supportive role. I hope to meet her again when I go out to Japan to deliver my academic paper.

Background to my Research

The gender roles in Japan are culturally ingrained and expectations placed on behaviour carry considerable influence in everyday life. I am looking at how gendered behaviour is so strongly influenced by Japanese culture and society (family, education, media) and how this may be a barrier to the policies of Womenomics, which are unable to penetrate the unwritten and yet strongly influential expectations of how men and women should behave. These expectations work against the Government’s agenda to both encourage a productive female labour force participation and raise the birth rate whilst changing the corporate culture and lowering the gender gap -something that needs to precede both these goals. For the future survival of Japan, a re-evaluation of how cultural norms and traditional values influence gendered behaviour is needed but can only effectively take root if happening from the bottom up through education. I will look at how gender socialisation happens within the family, media and most importantly education and will open the debate on how the traditional and cultural values and norms of Japan regarding gender can be preserved within the educational system whilst re-defining the gendered behaviours that presently are a barrier to gender equality within Japan.

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Gender Equality in the Workplace in Japan-Gendered norms still a barrier

Posted on 13 December 2016 in Japanese Corporate Culture, News, womenomics -
womenomics

I recently got back from a week in Japan where I spent some time gathering information for both my ‘Promotion of Gender Equality Training’ for businesses and my academic research into the Gender Roles in Japanese Society. I met with employees from a Japanese company and spoke to other people I met to get both a male and female perspective on Womenomics and to discuss issues such as child-care and gender equality in the workplace.

Labour Participation & Female Leaders

Although the Survey of Living Conditions compiled by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare in 2015 showed a record high number of working mothers in the labour market since 2004, they are still predominately working in part-time and temporary roles. Indeed, many of the working mothers I spoke to in Tokyo supported this by agreeing that they chose to do either part-time or contract work so they could fulfil the duties of bringing up children. Furthermore, full-time working mothers were not going for promotions to managerial levels because of the immense time commitments this would entail since they were already up at 5am sorting out the house-work and children having to do more in the evening, making the long hours and responsibility of reaching managerial level at work unrealistic and unattractive. One of the men I spoke to told me how his wife was wanting to go back into the workforce but was lacking the confidence to do this. Even with his support it seems that the corporate culture and hurdles of finding child-care and fulfilling the expectations of the educational role they are still expected to play (PTA attendance being one of the major bugbears) is still not supportive of mothers returning to work with confidence and ease nor is it giving them any incentives to want to climb the corporate ladder. No surprise that a poll conducted by the Intelligence HITO Research Institute in April 2015 showed that Japanese women have little interest in becoming managers or leaders.

yokogawa-2Gender Gap Widening

Even with all the awareness raising and structural support from the Government within their Womenomics initiatives, Japan dropped even further on the Global Gender Gap Index from 101st in 2015 to 111th in 2016 . The traditional expectations of gendered behaviour in Japanese society are very ingrained and still value men as the breadwinner and women as the house-wife/child-carer with expectations of certain gendered behavioural patterns. These attitudes are used as a socialiser to influence how women feel about themselves, behave, view opportunities and their ability to change things and can be quite harsh for those women who choose to go outside of these norms.

Grass-roots Shift

Pockets of change are happening but for more sustainability and a real change in mindset, there must be a grassroots shift in the expectations of gendered behaviour, which can only really happen from early years education (more about this in my upcoming academic paper). Until then, what the Government is ideally wanting- a rise in GDP from women entering the workplace alongside a rise in the birth rate to offset the demographic time bomb and create a workforce for the future- is going to be at odds with what women can realistically achieve within society.

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Working with Tokio Marine HCC-Building the Trust and Adding to Leicestershire Links

Posted on 13 December 2016 in Inter-Cultural Training, News -

Japanese Investment adds to Leicestershire Links

Tokio Marine Holdings Inc. bought HCC Insurance Holdings Inc. last year, in one of the biggest acquisition deals by a Japanese company to date. In doing so, they sparked a curiosity within the then HCC International into Japan and its culture, initiated by its office based in the Leicestershire village of Rearsby. The HR department there felt that their staff needed to know more about Japan, as for many of the staff it was their first experience working for a Japanese company.

Raising Interest in Japan

Together with the HR department, we developed an introductory presentation for staff in Leicester and London to get an insight into current Japanese culture, society, language and corporate philosophy. There is a big interest in all things Japanese in the UK, but the two cultures are very different. The training was tailored so that participants could really grasp the basics of Japanese culture to understand current events that are happening in and around Japan, raise their cross-cultural skillset and transfer these to any direct involvement they might have with their Japanese colleagues.

Angela Baker, Head of HR for Tokio Marine HCC, said:

“We had over 185 employees attend the presentations that Sarah delivered, and the feedback that we received was very positive.  Staff enjoyed the sessions which gave a real flavour of the culture and the economic and social issues in Japan.”

I was very impressed with the genuinely positive attitudes shown towards Japan from Angela and her team and the high level of interest shown by participants through their questions and prior knowledge about Japan. Every time I visit the offices, people are always talking about Japan and they all know the name of the Japanese representative from Tokio Marine in London -Kenichi Sakakibara – better known as Ken to the local staff.

hcc

In front of the new company sign at Tokio Marine HCC, The Grange, Rearsby, Leicestershire. From left to right, Sarah Parsons (MD Japan in Perspective), Angela Baker (Head of HR) and Jane Thorpe (HR Co-ordinator)

East Midlands/Japan Regional Links

This raised awareness of and interest in Japan highlights the soft power of Japanese investment in the UK, which has not only brought economic benefits but has fostered cultural and educational exchange on a regional level. There is a lively Japanese community in the East Midlands based around Toyota Motor Manufacturing UK in Derby and NSK in Newark. The University of Leicester has an active Japanese student population and Her Imperial Highness Princess Mako (the Emperor’s grand-daughter) recently graduated from there. Leicester is also well known to the Japanese thanks to the recent success of their football club and Japanese striker Shinji Okazaki. Hopefully now, staff from the Leicester office can access the Japan – UK links already developed in the area, and create more.

 

 

To find out more about Tokio Marine HCC, please visit their website, tmhcc.com/international.

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