Women in Business Summit | Breaking the Mold

Oct. 27, 2017

Photos by Life 14

Representatives of BCCJ member firms were among 50 business leaders and diversity and inclusion champions speaking at an event for empowering women in Tokyo on 17th October.

Hosted by the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan, the Women in Business Summit attracted more than 500 delegates with the promise of actionable takeways to help delegates “break the mould of traditional corporate culture,” the theme of this year’s event. While panellists said there is a growing movement to expand and develop Japan’s workforce to maximise the potential of women, they admitted more needed to be done to bring about change, particularly to increase the number of women in high-level positions.

At a panel discussion on building your brand for professional success, delegates were encouraged to develop their personal power regardless of their position in their company, which would help them develop their career.

Erika Irish Brown [pictured with mic], global head of diversity and inclusion at member firm Bloomberg, said women need to develop not only confidence but also executive presence—incorporating appearance, communication skills and gravitas—to rise through the corporate ranks. Moreover, women need to continually evolve their brand at work, to show what they can do.
            “As your role evolves, as your seniority increases, you’ve got to think about the competencies that are most important for you to be effective in your role,” she said.

Brown called on delegates to get feedback for self-development by “asking specific questions, being honest in terms of what the situation was and soliciting comments” and to make the most of even the smallest interaction. For example, when asked “how are you?” in an elevator, replying with news on current work rather than a generic response will shape how the responder is perceived. “How you message and what information you give people is what they take on,” she added.

Meanwhile, in a session on an ageless workforce, Helen Bentley, vice president of BCCJ member firm Finsbury, said that although Japan has come a long way, more can be done to promote an inclusive workplace. “It is important that employees are recognized for their skills and contribution, regardless of their gender or age,” she commented.

In Bentley’s experience, even simple initiatives such as lunch and learn events, anonymous discussion walls, and cross-generational mentoring for skill transfer, can be effective tools for improving communication and encouraging the sharing of best practices between employees.

Keiko Hayashi, partner at member firm Deloitte Tohmatsu, said communication and transparency was vital for inclusive leadership. She called on managers to share why they leave work on time, for example to pick up their children or help their partner, because it shows staff that they can be open with each other and leave on time, too. 

Also joining the discussion was Tomokazu Betzold, director at member firm Robert Walters Japan, who said that bosses need to create a “safe” space at work, where staff do not feel apprehensive or nervous about sharing their opinion or disagreeing with others. By doing so, everyone will come up with the best solutions, he explained, adding that this culture should trickle down from those at the very top of organisations.

Panellists agreed that, ultimately, a manager’s priority should be what they can do to help staff do their jobs better. 

Throughout the day, speakers encouraged delegates to share issues, raise concerns and propose solutions, covering topics as wide-ranging as entrepreneurship, workstyle reform, leveraging inclusion for innovation, and unconscious bias.

Produced by Sterling Content for the BCCJ