USJC Hosts Vibrant Discussion on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the Workplace

On July 29, the U.S.-Japan Council virtually welcomed three speakers to lend their thoughts on diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) in the workplace. As the Black Lives Matter protests and other global demonstrations have further shed light on policies suppressing marginalized groups, multinational corporations, investment funds and venture capitalists have faced increasing pressure to begin to realize DE&I through more tangible and long-lasting measures. The speakers touched on what diversity actually means, the merits of diversity, equity and inclusion for corporations and the venture ecosystem, and spoke to the various challenges they’ve encountered through their experiences as minorities or while furthering diversity initiatives.

The conversation was moderated by Council Leader Rika Nakazawa, CEO and Founder of BoardSeatMeet, Inc., and an ambassador to this webinar’s primary sponsor, fabbit. Ms. Nakazawa was joined by Stéphane E. Fouché (Founder & CEO of HAKO, LLC; Junior Advisory Board Member, fabbit), Council Leader Andrew Ogawa (Managing Partner, Quest Venture Partners), and Lisa Shalett (Retired Former Partner, Goldman Sachs; Advisor to startups; Founder, Extraordinary Women on Boards).

The speakers began by briefly discussing what diversity, equity and inclusion means to them. “For me, diversity is an acceptance of everyone and everything out there,” Mr. Ogawa said. “It’s very important to never assume that you may know something about someone before you actually talk to them.” Ms. Shalett echoed those thoughts. “That phrase means to me, that multiple perspectives matter, that safety and belonging and feeling valued, matter…and that in order to make it happen, everyone needs to be proactive.” Mr. Fouché expanded on those ideas by emphasizing that diversity should be welcomed not only when it’s convenient, but at all times. “I think it stops at race a lot, but it’s also about having people with different mindsets, having people with different upbringings. Having an environment where the other person is not from the exact same background and being able to communicate your thoughts.”

The conversation then transitioned to personal challenges the speakers had faced, whether as marginalized individuals or while trying to institute initiatives to increase diversity. “In my case it would be being a woman in the room in financial services, for example, or in the board room,” Ms. Shallet reflected. “It’s always a situation where you hope you’re not being chosen for something in order to check a box. You hope you’re being chosen for something because you’re a qualified person first, and the diversity you might bring is a plus. Sometimes it gets in your head, maybe I was selected for those reasons and you get a little bit of imposter syndrome.”

“If I gave it a name, I’d say tokenism,” Mr. Fouché added. “I still remember when I was working for a large IT firm in Japan, they were expanding to Africa and I was recruited. They go, ‘Great! We have an African American male, he speaks Japanese, he speaks English, he speaks French, which means we can put him in Rwanda, he’s perfect.’ But they never actually asked me where I’m from. So, the question is, which part of Africa am I from? And I’m actually from the Carribean, I’m from Haiti…There wasn’t that full step forward, there was more of like what Lisa said, checking the box, making sure we have that person there, that person who could speak Japanese.”

The webinar concluded by discussing what the best steps are for increasing diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace. “For Japan, you need to get rid of that ‘shouganai’ mentality”, Mr. Ogawa said emphatically. “Let’s do something about it.”

Click here or on the images above to view this webinar. 

We would like to thank our platinum sponsor fabbit, as well as our title sponsors the Central Pacific Bank Foundation, Hitachi, Ltd., ITO EN (North America) Inc., MUFG Union Bank, N.A., the Terasaki Nibei Foundation, and Toyota Research Institute for supporting the U.S.-Japan Council’s activities in 2020.