Losing good staff can cost a company dearly. While some attrition is natural, companies increasingly realise that creating supportive work environments that acknowledge employee values and pressures is critical to retaining talent over the long term.
In just such an effort in Japan, we have seen a sudden surge in companies promoting acceptance and understanding of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered (LGBT) issues.
While much of this push is coming from multinationals seeking to locally mirror their headquarters’ policies, a growing number of Japanese giants are joining the effort.
How did LGBT inclusion become part of the corporate agenda in the first place? The trend can be traced back to the experience several decades ago of global, largely non-Japanese corporations grappling with increased female participation in the workforce.
In the 1980s, multinationals began to realize they were losing considerable female talent due to unsupportive—even hostile—work environments. Perceptive companies recognized the cost of this talent drain and set out to reverse the trend by educating managers on creating more female-inclusive workplaces. It took years, but HR departments adjusted employment policies, room was made for differing priorities and lifestyles, benefits were introduced, and workforces were instructed on new behaviours and expectations.
Starting in the mid-2000s and again primarily in the west, we saw that same effort broadened to make room for LGBT employees and their families. Companies began acknowledging the existence of LGBT staff and customers, and set out to establish policies that “enlarge the tent.”
While Japan is indeed a late mover on this front, change is afoot. When foreign organisations, largely in the financial industry, led the initial charge here on LGBT inclusion about 10 years ago, Japanese companies remained on the sidelines. Though they were already publicly supporting LGBT equality in other markets outside Japan, their initial perception was that “this doesn’t apply to us here,” when of course it actually does. Today, we are witnessing a sea change in that analysis as a few giants like Sony and Nomura take stands domestically. Other household Japanese names, moreover, are telling us they are close to joining the effort as they study its results and ramifications.
What specifically are companies now doing in Japan? Most importantly, corporations are “coming out of the closet,” so to speak, by publicly stating their support for equality and inclusion. They are signing petitions and lobbying papers, unashamed to state their values to the community at large. Like Softbank, some are now target-marketing to LGBT segments.
Internally too the message is pushed. Educational seminars are being held for local employees, who are told that an inclusive environment is as important to the firm’s DNA as, say, teamwork or even profitability.
Boiled down managements are saying, “We really don’t care about anyone’s sexuality, nor does anyone need to come out who doesn’t want to—we just want everyone to operate at their fullest in a supportive atmosphere.”
The effort has been infectious. Today multinationals across a myriad of industries in Japan are sponsoring internal and external LGBT events, targeting advertising campaigns toward sexual minorities, and including LGBT community organisations in their charitable giving. At the 2015 Tokyo Gay Pride Parade, corporate sponsorship of the event swelled to include food and drink, automotive, luxury goods, travel, technology, and of course financial firms. More than 15 foreign governments also sponsored the event with tourism booths.
Interestingly, inquiries from clients and the public have also been positive. Early fears that taking a stance on a social topic may impact business—particularly in politically skittish and homogenous Japan—have proven unfounded. Internal employee support networks now include LGBT chapters with memberships dominated not by “out” staff but rather by straight allies eager to demonstrate support.
More work remains in effecting change in Japan. The good news, however, is that corporations have kindled a discussion, and even Japan’s political parties are today looking at legal changes that could notably improve the lives of LGBT people. I for one am excited and eagerly waiting to see which Japanese companies and governmental organisations will be the next to join our efforts.© Japan Today