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THE Leadership Japan Series by Dale Carnegie Training Tokyo Japan

Feb 22, 2023

Over the last couple of years I have participated in numerous webinars and training provided by different organisations on gaining Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) in Japan.  The concentration has been on raising awareness about what DEI actually involves.  When we first received enquiries about Diversity training, the request was to provide training for the women.  For those outside Japan facing ethnic, racial and religious issues, as well as gender diversity, this may seem a bit strange. Diversity in Japan however primarily focuses on gender issues and to a much lesser extent on age and LGBTQ issuesAlso there just aren’t significant numbers of foreigners living here nor significant non-Buddhist or non-Shinto foreign religions present to be major issues. 

Diversity and equity are outcomes and we believe the key to the door is gaining inclusion.  The awareness discussions are important, but we need to go beyond that to looking at the “how” to get inclusion piece.  That is a big discussion and we cannot deal with all of it in this short piece, but here are two catalysts to start with, for delivering inclusion in Japan.

(1)   Build Trust and Psychological Safety

Trust, credibility and respect are all key requirements for inclusion. If I don’t trust you, then credibility and respect are missing.  If I don’t think you are credibile, then trust and repect are missing.  If there is no respect, then there will be no trust or credibility. 

There are certain actions which build trust including not playing favourites, being true to one’s word, being ethical, consistent, honest and transparent. These go a long way to establishing the trust needed.  Being able to admit when we are wrong and not being locked into fixed positions, because of our status or ego, also builds trust.  Not so easy to pull off when you are the boss.

There are also some human relations principles which are magic for building trust and psychological safety.  Not criticising others is a key start. If we want to create trouble and lifelong enemies, we can climb up on our high horse and start telling others they are wrong at every opportunity.  Instead, we could find areas where we can express our honest appreciation for the efforts of others.  Being genuinely interested in other people, instead of just talking about ourselves all of the time, is a good pivot.  Being a good listener is a rare skill today – let’s not finish their sentences, or cut them off and instead let the other person talk. They will feel the respect and that you genuinely consider them important.  Trying to see things from the other person’s point of view, instead of being absorbed by what we want, substantially changes the dynamic and builds a collaborative, positive environment.  We gain credibility when we do this.

There are four factors which will impact the amount of inclusion we can marshall. 

1.         How we look 

What is the actual expression on our face?  Do we look welcoming and friendly or are we displaying stress or anger.  Are we in fact showing a warning beacon to everyone to avoid us, because we don’t look happy or collegiate.

2.         How we act 

What is our body language communicating?  This can be tricky.  I remember once catching myself shaking my head from side to side, while someone was telling me their idea. Unconsciously I was telling them , “I don’t like your idea”. No words were being expressed by me but the message was crystal clear.

3.         What we say

Diplomacy is a learnt skill and there are ways of expressing things which will generate less resistance and pushback than other options and we have to be sensitive to the content and context of our message.

4.         How we say it

The tone of our voice can trump the actual words. In themsleves they may not be so combustible, until we add some nuance to the way we deliver the message.  Sarcasm is deadly because we take neutral words andspice them up into weapons of mass collaboration destruction.

(2)   Cultural Awareness

The issues of conscious and unconscious bias are central to gaining inclusion. Conscious biases are easier to understand but not necessarily easy to eliminate.  We are the products of our upbringing, our experiences, our thinking and our generational age.  The issue becomes “do I care”?  If we are not convinced of the benefits of diversity, we won’t make the effort. This is where the organisation needs to intervene, to spend time and effort establishing that “we take achieving diversity seriously here, because we see the clear business benefits”. If the upper levels of leadership cannot do that, then the inclusion cause is doomed to fail and nothing will change.

“We don’t know what we don’t know”, “blind spots”, “lack of self-awareness” are all the enemy of eliminating subterranean biases we may have.  Microaggressions are a common outcome of our lack of self-awareness.  We are barreling along in our career, sweeping all before us but also leaving a trail of destruction in our wake. We are ignorant of how we are coming across. When we have built up trust though, we can illuminate points of unconscious bias by colleagues and bosses. 

I tell all my new staff when they join, that if I am doing something which annoys them, I may be totally unaware of it. Let me know and I will stop doing it.  Especially with female staff members, I make the point that, as a man, I am often just unaware of how they may feel about my comments. If they let me know I will stop making those sorts of comments. 

We need to have an open mind about analysing ourselves and our negative outcomes with others. By better understanding ourselves we can improve our radar for trouble.  Inclusion is a one person at a time effort, but support and guidance from top leadership is vital.