Brexit Briefing to Japanese Companies on ‘Understanding the British.’

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Brexit Briefing to Japanese Companies on ‘Understanding the British.’

Posted on 6 March 2018 in Inter-Cultural Training, News -

I recently gave a Brexit Briefing at Baker McKenzie for some of their Japanese clients, to give them: a deeper understanding of the context of the Brexit vote, a fresh insight into the mentality of British people and a chance to discuss some of the ensuing impacts of the current political decisions being taken on training and skills.

Using statistical analysis, I outlined how regional underinvestment and a culture of centralised business decision-making has resulted in patchy prosperity across the UK. This was one of the main drivers for the frustrated Brexit vote, which was highest in the areas where productivity was at its lowest. I also spoke about how the rhetorical nature of British politics had led to an out-of-touch attitude regarding these frustrations amongst the political elite alongside a campaign fought on rhetoric and intellectual word-play that was persuasive, emotive and channelled this frustration into an anti-migrant mentality (even though the areas that voted Leave had some of the lowest levels of immigration). The result caught many of those in power by surprise, including the Japanese business community, who had been largely assured it wouldn’t happen, couldn’t understand the nature of the decision and were disappointed by the result in areas such as the NE where Japanese companies had contributed immensely to job creation education and training. To explain this further, I looked at cultural differences both between the Japanese and the British from an employer-employee perspective but also differences between the EU and the British, that are becoming evident now within negotiations.

Up-skilling the UK

Current UK labour skills shortages, especially in areas that have traditionally relied on EU immigration combined with an undervalued vocational training system all point to a potential post-Brexit labour skills crisis that will hopefully lead to an ‘up-skilling’ of the British work-force and a re-think of adult education. Theresa May’s recent announcement about a governmental review of the adult-education system shows an acknowledgement of this.The Japanese are traditionally great pioneers of the apprenticeship method of training and their companies in the UK have been incremental in providing vocational training & education for the British workforce. Companies like Hitachi Rail have recently launched new apprenticeship programmes and have invested in local technical schools. It’s important we can find a way of incentivising them to stay in the UK.

Potential New Government

Since the briefing took place on the day that the CBI and the IoD threw their support behind Labour’s proposals to maintain a UK/EU custom’s union, we discussed the possibility of a change of Government and an understanding of the Labour Government’s proposals regarding the skills shortage and educational reforms, moving economic growth out of the south and dealing with some of the social problems that led to such a culture of dissatisfaction in the first place.

Please contact us should you wish to hold an innovative Brexit briefing within your company for Japanese staff living in the UK, tailored towards furthering learning and deepening understanding of the British people, politics and society.

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Foreign Graduate Employment in Japanese Companies, SOAS Conference

Posted on 4 January 2018 in Japanese Corporate Culture, News -
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On the 6th November 2017, I chaired a panel of Japanese companies and recruitment agencies at this conference at SOAS, organised by Dr Harald Conrad Harald Conrad, a lecturer on Japan’s economy and management at Sheffield University. The two day conference was aimed at sharing the realities of working for Japanese companies for foreign graduates so that the teaching of Japanese at university level can reflect these needs. Academics and students from all over Europe attended

The Japan Times featured an article about this conferenceclick here

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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 -
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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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