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Diversity Beyond Gender: People with Disabilities

From left: Suzanne Price, representative director of Price Global; Hisako Kaneko, chief diversity officer of AXA Life Insurance Co., Ltd.; Toshiyuki Ueki, director of general administration and employee satisfaction at Fast Retailing Co., Ltd; and Yukari Yomo, GlaxoSmithKline K.K.’s vice-president of human resources

“We need to raise awareness and change the preconceptions that people might have about those with disabilities”.


By Megan Waters


eople with certain disabilities— physical, mental or intellectual— are often an overlooked and under-hired sector of the talent pool. In Japan, individuals with disabilities increasingly are being absorbed into mainstream society, education and employment. The government’s strategies to revitalise Japan include promoting the employment of persons with disabilities. On 1 April, a Ministry of Health and Welfare law came into force requiring that, at firms in Japan with 50 or more employees, those with disabilities must account for at least 2% of the staff. Firms with 200 employees or more that do not meet this requirement are penalised. To date, the factors that have motivated firms to employ disabled individuals have included a focus on fulfilling quotas, thus placing employees with disabilities into limiting roles that do not foster their abilities. Hisako Kaneko, chief diversity officer of AXA Life Insurance Co., Ltd., says her firm is very eager to include people with disabilities in the workforce as it would make the workplace more inclusive for all employees, regardless of whether they have disabilities. “The concept we are trying to promote is ‘not charity, but chance’”, Kaneko explained.

Her comments were made on the occasion of the British Chamber of Commerce in Japan’s “Diversity Beyond Gender: People with Disabilities” event, at the Shangri-La Hotel, Tokyo on 28 March. Suzanne Price, representative director of Price Global and the winner of the 2012 British Business Award for Entrepreneur of the Year, moderated the session. At present, there are 7mn registered disabled people in Japan—6% of the country’s total population. But, rather than just focusing on the employment of disabled people, AXA Life Insurance wants stakeholders to know what they are doing in terms of overall diversity, Kaneko explained. “We want to become a company of choice”, she added. Meanwhile, GlaxoSmithKline K.K. (GSK), which has a staff of 3,700 people at its Japan branch, applies a philosophy of respecting others. It tries to include every aspect of diversity in its workforce, according to Yukari Yomo, the healthcare firm’s vice-president of human resources. Ways are being sought to make the most of diversity in order to strengthen the firm. “In the past, very few individuals with disabilities went on to further education in Japan. However, this has slowly been changing and more disabled people are now attending university”. Because those with disabilities generally are not well qualified academically, they find it hard to get employment at larger firms. And there are few, if any, disabled among Japan’s top management elite. So now, Yomo believes, the benefits of employing people with disabilities need to be promoted to educational organisations. Putting their heart where their mouth is, GSK has established initiatives to help people with disabilities, such as their Orange Internship programme. Fast Retailing Co., Ltd, the fourth largest clothing retailer worldwide and holding company for seven fashion brands including Uniqlo Co., Ltd. and G.U. Co., Ltd., has recently expanded to focus not only on consumer satisfaction, but also on employee satisfaction.

Event: Diversity (BCCJ ACUMEN, April 2013)  
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