Conference Highlights Need To Empower Women, Embrace Diversity In The Workplace

By Magdalena Osumi
Japan Times, Tokyo.

A two-day conference aimed at empowering and inspiring women to bring about social change and elevate them as leaders was held last week in Tokyo, highlighting the need for greater diversity in the workplace.

The Women’s International Networking Conference was founded in 1997 by Norwegian social entrepreneur Kristin Engvig. It has since become an internationally recognized learning platform, attracting thousands of female leaders at various venues worldwide.

Japan hosted the event for the fifth time this year, on April 9 and 10, amid Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s call to create a society where “all women can shine.” Some 220 men and women gathered to listen to and share their experiences on how to embrace diversity.

Speakers included Lower House member Seiko Noda and Sayaka Osakabe, founder of Matahara Net, an NPO fighting against maternity harassment.

“Often change starts with an idea we have in our mind, a plan on our computer, and I think that’s what many people have: great plans,” Engvig said during an opening ceremony, encouraging attendees to “look at our authentic leadership, how each and every one of us can contribute.”

She added that realizing change — the theme of this year’s event — requires openness, commitment and a will to contribute.

“For me, diversity and inclusion does not happen by default, it needs to be a conscious decision and effort by everyone, and it starts with me, my attitude,” said Peter List, president and CEO of IKEA Japan K.K.

List said that all of his employees are full-time employees, who are equally encouraged to balance their work and life.

“Everybody is unique, everyone is a talent, everyone has something to bring to contribute,” he said, adding that the company’s labor policies are designed to be flexible enough to meet the needs of employees with different life situations, enabling them to be more productive.

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