Every September, the Sony Group holds Diversity Week around the world to think and act together about diversity. This year's Diversity Week in Japan took as its theme "Dimensions of Diversity: Discover The Power of Belonging and Find Yourself." Following the theme "Let's Expand the Power of Our Friends," a lecture and talk session entitled "The Power to Expand Your Presence and Ensure Your Voice Can Be Heard" was held at Sony City (Sony Group Headquarters) on September 11. The event was supported by the Nippon Foundation and was open to Sony Group employees in Japan, as well as employees of The Valuable 500 (*) signatory companies in Japan, and employees of companies, universities and organizations. The talk session was also streamed online.
Ms. Taeko Utsugi
(Former coach of Japan's national women's softball team)
Ms. Junko Abe
(President, Connecting Point, Inc)
Mr. Yosuke Ishikawa
(Team Leader, Inclusion Promotion Team, The Nippon Foundation)
The first part of the proceedings dealt with creating a presence for oneself and consisted of a lecture by Ms. Taeko Utsugi, former coach of Japan's national women's softball team. Ms. Utsugi has been involved in softball continuously for 58 years in various capacities, from active player to coach, and now trains new generations of players and promotes the sport. She shared her experiences and talked about building a team that makes the most of each individual's strengths.
The youngest of five children, her mother told her in first grade of elementary school that she was the only one of her siblings who behaved differently and it would be embarrassing if she got low scores in her tests. She told us that she decided the only way to gain her mother's approval was to excel in sports, not studies. Ms. Utsugi first encountered softball when she was in the first grade of junior high school. Her softball team advisor told her that everyone is different and unique even if they are born from the same parents and raised in similar environments and asked her what her strengths were. She replied that in addition to being born energetic, she was a fast runner, resolute, with a strong sense of responsibility. The advisor told her that she should channel these strong points into winning the prefectural softball championship. That's how she got started in softball.
Ms. Utsugi went on to become a softball player in high school and in a company team before switching to coaching. When she considered what kind of leader she wanted to be, her starting point was the advice of her junior high school softball team advisor. She began by approaching each player face-to-face in order to get to know them and draw out and develop their different personalities. When a manager at the plant where she was working asked her if she would be interested in coaching the women's softball team thirty-eight years ago, she talked things over with her father. He told her that if she became a coach, the players would look up to her and follow her example. As each player is a unique individual, he said, it would not be enough to just teach them how to play softball. She must first teach them basic human manners, such as daily greetings, punctuality and keeping things neat and tidy. At the same time, as she worked with her players, she must show them all the practices and training she went through during her years as a professional. This led to a steady increase in the players' awareness and motivation, and her team, which was at the bottom of the third division at the time, gained promotion to the first division in about four years. "I am constantly communicating with my players, sharing my thoughts and accepting their opinions. I deal with each player individually, working to make the most of their individual strengths and utilizing them to strengthen the team. That is how I lead," said Ms. Utsugi. This same approach to coaching applies to company teams: "Do you know what sort of person you are? Do you deal with your subordinates properly? Do you say what you want to say to your boss?" she asked participants.
Ms. Utsugi currently serves as a senior advisor to Bic Camera Takasaki women's softball team and as the general manager of the Tokyo International University women's softball team. She says that there is no need for young managers to imitate her. "I don't want you all to imitate your bosses." She concluded by saying, "I think we should build organizations and teams by boldly promoting our own methods so long as it does not affect the company negatively."
The second part of the proceedings dealing with how to promote one's presence consisted of presentations by four employees with disabilities who work for signatory companies of The Valuable 500. In light of the current situation where people with disabilities have few opportunities to speak out, this project was established with the key objective of enabling them to deepen understanding by voicing their concerns. Ms. Junko Abe of Connecting Point, Inc. and Mr. Yosuke Ishikawa of the Nippon Foundation joined Ms. Utsugi as commentators.
The first presenter was Mr. Takayuki Yamashita of Shiseido Company, Limited. He was left with a disability after incurring a cervical spinal cord injury from a snowboarding accident during his senior year at high school. After undergoing rehabilitation and entering university, he started applying for jobs and decided to join Shiseido because he was impressed by their approach, which is to expect people with disabilities to deliver excellent results without giving them special treatment other than the necessary consideration. Initially, he found there were many things he was unable to do but was eventually able to master his work thanks to the understanding and consideration of his supervisors and colleagues. As he gained experience, he came to realize that a true understanding of and consideration for disabilities should expand the range of activities in which people with disabilities can engage. He also realized firsthand that it is vital not just to dwell on what he cannot do, but to broaden the scope of what he can do and thus focus on how he can contribute to the company. He also mentioned that people with disabilities should avoid feeling that they are entitled to any kind of consideration. He said that communications with supervisors and colleagues about the types of consideration individual employees need and what they can do should help to build a comfortable workplace for employees irrespective of whether they have a disability or not.
In response to Mr. Yamashita's presentation, Mr. Ishikawa said, "It is great that you learned about your work style, abilities, and way of thinking through the company after becoming a working adult. It reminded me that we still have a lot to learn once we become adults."
The second presenter was Mr. Hitoshi Nakamura of Resonac Holdings Corporation. Mr. Nakamura, who has a developmental disability, majored in robotics at university and planned to go on to pursue a career in robot development. However, he failed to find employment in his fourth year at university and second year of graduate school. With the hope of finding a job, he entered a facility that helps people with disabilities make the transition to employment. After one year of training, he met his current supervisor, and joined Resonac after two practical training sessions. He spoke of how he once abandoned his commitment to his university specialty and humbly started working to solve problems in new and different fields. However, he believed that his refusal to stop trying and determination to continue taking action despite the uncertainties made him who he is today. When he first joined the company, he found it difficult to overcome his tendency to brood over making even a single mistake. He realized that as a result of dutifully taking notes to avoid forgetting what he had heard, he lost track of what he had written and missed the point of what needed to be done. Since his supervisor taught him how to organize the information he had noted down, his slip-ups have decreased. At the same time, he said, he no longer feels anxious or rushed and has begun to enjoy his work more and more. Mr. Nakamura used to think that there was no place for him in society but says that "The idea that I can encourage people in the same situation as myself through my activities and be recognized by society provides me with the motivation to continue my work. I want to continue to overcome my difficulties and expand my presence.
Responding to Mr. Nakamura's presentation, Ms. Abe said, "I was most impressed by the fact that he temporarily set aside his own specialty through his job search. I was struck by how his positive thinking towards overcoming the challenges he faced made him what he is today." Ms. Utsugi said, "You were lucky to have such a good boss. I think a boss like that would not only help you deliver results at work but also create a rosy future for you. I hope you will continue to communicate directly and effectively with your bosses and do whatever you are capable of.
The third presenter was Mr. Mohamed Abdin of Santen Pharmaceutical Co., Ltd. Mr. Abdin, who has a visual impairment, is also involved in managing an organization that supports education and employment assistance for people with disabilities in his native Sudan. Providing supporting data, he explained that while employment of people with disabilities has been increasing in Japan, 30 to 40% of them quit their jobs within one year of being hired. He noted that the causes are complex and difficult but suggested that one key factor was a lack of progress in understanding certain aspects of the working situation of people with disabilities, including the workplace atmosphere and human relations. He also stated that it is necessary to improve the atmosphere in the workplace and human relations so that everyone can engage in dialog and get to know each other, thereby enabling people with disabilities to continue to work with a sense of fulfillment. When engaging in dialog with people with disabilities, there are two things that we should understand from their perspective: First, we should ensure we see them as individuals before identifying them as people with disabilities. We all want to be understood in the same way -- as someone who wishes to be accepted, to grow, and to make our own families happy. Second, we should ensure that they are given the consideration they really need to work. For example, employees with visual impairments cannot participate fully in meetings if they cannot understand the content of distributed printed materials. However, if the data are shared in advance they can use voice recognition software to confirm the content before the meeting. According to Mr. Abdin, "Sample data suggest that it might be possible to keep 40% of people with disabilities from leaving their jobs if we can arrange proper dialogs about what is really needed. But that's not all. We can create a happy workplace environment for everyone by ensuring that we engage in mutual communications. I believe there are three key factors: dialog, dialog and dialog."
Responding to Mr. Abdin's presentation, Ms. Abe said, "I was most impressed by his comment that 'First, we should ensure we see them as individuals.' This message resonated with me because it made me wonder the extent to which we can envisage people with disabilities living as individuals." Mr. Ishikawa commented that he would be happy to receive tips and specific hints on dialog from a life mentor like Mr. Abdin. In response, Mr. Abdin said, "I think it's a matter of visualizing the life that the person you are speaking to is living as a human being, and the world that he or she aspires to. Moreover, since dialog is not a one-way street, people with disabilities must actively communicate the kind of environment in which they would feel comfortable working. That said, we should also remember that there are people who have done this but have still experienced the situation where nothing changes."
The fourth presenter was Mr. Yosuke Nagase of Sony Corporation. Mr. Nagase was left with a disability in his leg due to premature birth. Based on his own experiences, he spoke about communications between people with and without disabilities. Mr. Nagase said that when someone gallantly offers him a seat on a train or a bus, he gratefully accepts their kindness even if he does not want to sit down at the time. He does this because he believes that people without disabilities find it very difficult to gauge the needs of people with disabilities since they differ according to the type, level, and degree of disability. Rather, he stated that he is proactively working to win the hearts of people who do not have disabilities of their own and get closer to them. On the other hand, he also mentioned that he would like people to feel free to communicate with people with disabilities without being too nervous about it. Since two-way rapprochement in communications is important in work and daily life whether disabilities are involved or not, he said he would apply what he has learned through communications to engage in dialogs with many people, not just about themes of disabilities.
Responding to Mr. Nagase's presentation, Ms. Utsugi said, "I live with a child who has Down syndrome. As my softball promotion activities often involve visits to special needs schools and interaction with children with disabilities, I feel we are doing our best for each other because I always think about how I can help them grow and be more joyful. I think it is vital to encourage and recognize each other as individuals."
This was followed by a conversation between Ms. Utsugi, Ms. Abe and Mr. Ishikawa. The moderator was Mr. Mori, General Manager, Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, Sony People Solutions Inc. He asked them about their first contact with people with disabilities and what they thought at that time. Ms. Utsugi replied, "When I went to a special needs school as part of my softball promotion activities, I initially did not know how to interact with people with disabilities. However, when I taught them how to play softball, they understood and approached me, enabling me to interact with them irrespective of their disabilities. When a five-year-old with complete loss of vision came to watch a game, I handed him a ball and told him about softball. It is important to use objects or your hands, etc., to help each person touch and feel things for themselves in their own way."
Ms. Abe said, "I first came into contact with people with intellectual disabilities when I was at university and worked part-time at a childcare club for children with disabilities. Some of the children had difficulty communicating their intentions in words, and I tried frantically to figure out how to intuit their thoughts and feelings. I knew that they might panic if I could not grasp their thoughts and feelings and was desperate to avoid such situations at the time. But in the end, we wanted to have a good time with each other, and were gradually able to get on perfectly well." When Mr. Mori asked whether I ever thought I didn't want to do it anymore for the children who needed various kinds of support, I said no. Once when I was giving one child a piggyback ride, he bit me on the shoulder. I wondered why he had just bitten me but I was more genuinely interested in the feelings that had led him to bite me."
Responding to Ms. Utsugi and Ms. Abe's comments, Mr. Ishikawa said, "When you are alone, you don't know what kind of person you are, but when you face people who are different from you in some way, making comparisons sometimes helps you perceive yourself and them better. When I work with people with disabilities, there are situations where certain things inevitably emerge, helping me understand both myself and others."
Mr. Mori asked Ms. Utsugi, "Softball players each have their own individuality; some are good hitters and some are good pitchers. I think most teams are created by combining these characteristics." Ms. Utsugi replied, "That's right, and the first thing I did to develop each player's individuality when I became a coach was to create personal cards containing information on things like each player's blood type and family structure. I then communicated with each player to let them know their roles and help them make the most of their abilities."
Mr. Mori added, "My subjective impression is that many people in Japan are somewhat aloof when it comes to dealing with people with disabilities. Overseas, however, people are not so detached and have no problems asking people with disabilities what they cannot do. Given your familiarity with people with disabilities overseas, Mr. Ishikawa, have you ever felt such differences between Japan and other countries?" Mr. Ishikawa replied, "People in Japan often engage in more indirect communications because they value each person's own position in the situation, making it difficult to casually overcome mutual barriers. Japanese people tend to be shy, so understanding and overcoming barriers with people who are different from us may take a lot of emotional energy, whether they have disabilities or not."
For her part, Ms. Utsugi spoke about the child with Down syndrome with whom she lives. "Since she goes everywhere with me, she is accepted because of her relationship with me. I wish people would accept people like her more naturally even when they are not in a similar position."
To conclude, Mr. Mori asked, "How would you briefly describe today's theme, 'The Power to Expand Your Presence'?" Mr. Ishikawa replied, "Limited to organizations, when you reexamine the purpose or mission for which an organization exists and think about what you and your unit should do, you will always find things that you can do and things that you are good at. I believe this should provide you with opportunities to expand your own presence."
Ms. Abe said, "I always ask myself whether I have the courage to avoid equivocating. People often say that Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DE&I) is itself a kind of equivocation, but I believe people who are interested in and concerned about DE&I, such as those of you gathered here today, are realistically capable of expanding their own presence. Please avoid equivocating over important issues like this."
Ms. Utsugi said, "I have simply devoted myself to playing softball while doing my utmost to find my place in the world. I overcame the barriers I faced and created my own presence. I believe it is up to us to create our own environments. The ideal is to do the best we can in the comfort of the environment we have created."
At the last of the event, Mr. Mori said, "When I talk with people with disabilities, they often tell me about happy experiences that are completely new to me. This makes me happy because I feel as though I am steadily absorbing such things inside of me. It was a great pleasure to listen to the four presenters today and learn so many new things. I believe people can steadily expand their presence if they can enjoy learning. Listening to our speakers -- Ms. Utsugi, Ms. Abe, and Mr. Ishikawa -- I got the impression that all three enjoy learning new things in their own ways. I will be pleased if everyone who attended today's event felt that something applied to them personally." He then concluded that the event demonstrated how anyone can expand their presence.