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Women in business champion

Sanae Oishi

Sanae Oishi round.pngSanae Oishi, senior manager and Certified Public Tax Accountant at Grant Thornton Taiyo Tax Corporation, on how Japanese businesses need to expand the talent pool as the workforce shrinks.






Q: In your firm, what are the benefits you see from having teams with more gender diversity?

Where there is diversity within a team or an environment with a mix of men and women working together, there is a greater likelihood of meeting the needs of clients since the positive traits of each gender will be demonstrated.

I think, for instance, that attention to detail is a distinctive feature of women while a decisive mindset can be a distinctive feature of men – and these are positive traits of the respective genders.

I mainly engage in inheritance-related services, and have many occasions to listen to and discuss complicated issues by phone with a client whom I have never met, and to inquire about personal information. By listening carefully and responding courteously, clients open up with confidence. Some clients even request a female tax accountant, so perhaps a softer tone of voice contributes to giving clients a sense of security (especially the elderly). I think that there are a lot of scenarios in which women can take advantage of their natural traits, and inheritance may be one such field.

Q: How can businesses make a connection between diversity and their business goals?

First, we, the employees, need to understand what diversity is and learn to accept it. And secondly, companies have to hire diverse people and recognise diverse ways of working.

As a basic premise, Japan’s labour force is shrinking due to declining birth rates and an aging population. It will not be feasible for companies to conduct business unless the elderly and women actively participate in the labour force and companies utilise these human resources.

In light of this, it may be possible for companies to attract and expand the talent pool of human resources by offering diverse ways of working to their employees. In Japan, the number of young people who aspire to become a tax accountant is remarkably few in number. According to the National Tax Agency, the number of examinees who were 30 years or under who took the tax accountant examination was 27,610 in 2005, while the number decreased to 8,557 in 2018, dropping 69% over the past 13 years.

Under these circumstances, it is important for us to offer options for ways of working including shorter hours, flextime, etc., to housewives (a dormant talent pool) who are experienced tax accountants but were forced to quit their careers as a result of childbirth or other life-related events. They are often highly skilled in working efficiently within a limited time frame, and can offer a great deal to companies who make it possible for them to return to their careers.

Further, we are possibly failing to attract experienced mid-life job and career switchers. In Japan, the percentage of successful tax accountant examinees is highest for those in their 40s. Even if they have no experience in the industry, they have business experience, and a different perspective on the corporate world. When such a person has chosen to take on the tax accountant examination, which is tough to pass, it is likely that he or she has a unique background and strength of mind.

It is also necessary for businesses to have a flexible mindset and consider actively recruiting mid-life workers to make effective use of this talent pool. The labour market tends to give priority to hiring young people or those who have experience in a particular industry, but I believe that we should consider a recruitment strategy from the perspective both of developing young personnel and of hiring those who have business experience regardless of whichever industry they come from. These are two wheels on the same axle. Diverse human resources will and can work in diverse ways

Q: What do you believe holds women back from being recruited to senior management positions?

Unconscious bias and unequal opportunity. In other words, both men and women still have fixed ideas subconsciously that men work outside the home and women quit working after childbirth, maintain the household and tend to childcare.

In my experience, there may be an unconscious bias related to working hours. I sometimes hear opinions about female managerial staff who are limited in their working hours due to childcare obligations that they cannot manage subordinates unless they stay in the office after regular office hours. Although operational efficiency can be, in theory, improved through time management, female managerial staff limited in afterhours work are still viewed negatively.

It is meaningless to measure managerial ability based on working hours. Those who successfully manage their own work during working hours can manage others. Can one better manage subordinates because one stays late at work in the office? I don’t think so. It’s time to stop the tendency of evaluating people based on their working hours.

As far as the organisation to which I belong is concerned, I don’t feel that women are prevented from being recruited to senior management positions. However, looking at Japan as a whole, there are few female employees in management positions, partly because “women themselves do not aspire”, since the distribution of housework and childcare duties is disproportionately laid on the backs of women and it is difficult to achieve the proper balance between work and household affairs.

The fact that many women with childcare duties work part time and not full time demonstrates how hard it is to balance work and childcare. A woman with childcare duties needs to steel herself to work as a full-fledged employee or a manager. In reality nowadays in Japan, it is difficult to satisfy both without active involvement from family members (especially the husband) in maintaining the household and establishing a system of joint childcare.

Q: In your opinion, what does an inclusive business culture look like?

We tend to be carried by the words of the majority in many circumstances: so I think that inclusive business culture refers to a situation where the opinion of the minority does not disappear but is heard and accepted, so that they can demonstrate their ability.

However, it is not enough to base business culture on being diverse or inclusive. While recognising diversity in individuals, the direction that an organisation should take must be set by its vision. The precondition is that all employees understand and share this vision. Otherwise, the organisation will descend into chaos.

To share the vision, top management needs to clarify its position and rules of the organisation and navigate it.

For a company to promote diversity and ensure that employees understand it, top management needs to commit to its vision. Otherwise, an organisation cannot undergo change. Some people, such as those in charge of CSR or those who are involved in the promotion of diversity, may keep it in mind on a routine basis, but most ordinary employees are not aware of the issue.

To have those people understand it, the top management must repeatedly deliver the message and clearly communicate the vision to them. Further, training programs must be provided on a regular basis to promote correct understanding within a corporate organisation about what diversity is, what inclusiveness is, and why these ideas are required in business management. By continuously repeating such efforts to promote correct understanding, ideas will permeate throughout the workplace, through which the desired business culture will be created.

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