Kanako Otsuji, who was Japan’s first openly LGBT member of Japan’s Diet (parliament) spoke at the Daiwa Anglo-Japanese Foundation last week. Her term in office expired this July – she had replaced a party member who had resigned, and she now runs the Policy Informatics Center of LGBT, based in Osaka. One of her main campaigns is to try to get Japan’s first ever diversity law passed by 2020, in time for the Tokyo Olympics. There is already an Equal Opportunities Law in Japan, in effect since 1986 and prohibiting gender discrimination. Presumably the proposed diversity law would be to prohibit discrimination on the grounds of sexuality – and maybe other characteristics as such laws do in Europe, such as ethnicity/race, age and religion?
Homosexuality is not illegal in Japan, although I was surprised to hear that it is illegal in nearly half of the countries of the world. My understanding was that Japan’s attitude to homosexuality, whilst not openly hostile, was one of viewing homosexuality as just a phase people go through and certainly not something to bring into the workplace.
Nikkei Business magazine had a special feature on LGBT earlier this summer, titled “LGBT – your company cannot ignore it”. It cited the Dentsu Diversity Lab’s findings that around 7.6% of Japan’s population are LGBT in terms of gender identity/sexual preference, and of the LGBT people surveyed, 43% said they had come out of their own accord, but only 2.4% had come out to their boss and 4.8% to their colleagues. Consequently, 60% have changed their jobs, compared to 50% of the heterosexual employees surveyed. Some of the case studies included:
- A person who turned down a job offer because the President said in the interview that being gay was a lifestyle choice so if it caused stress in the work place, that was their own responsibility.
- Someone who had been at a major trading company for 7 years, and the next step of their career was to transfer overseas, but there was an unwritten rule that you had to be married first. The person was also worried that even if they were sent on their own, it might be to a country unfriendly to gay people. So the employee has registered with a recruitment agency to change jobs.
- Another person who was transgender – male body but a woman at heart – was working in a major electronics company R&D lab, where almost everyone is male. The employee was having to put up with daily conversations that would be considered sexual harassment if a woman was present, and had to go to hostess bars at night with colleagues.
The feature then goes on to describe Japanese companies undertaking some kind of LGBT focused initiative including:
- Kao started a study group on LGBT issues in 2014.
- Suntory Holdings has also started seminars on LGBT for employees
- Hitachi has started training centred on the HR departments of each of its group companies.
- NEC is considering training on LGBT issues for the staff of its internal hotline.
- Dentsu already surveys its employees on LGBT and has internal training – its Diversity Lab has noticed a big increase in people wanting the training.
- Microsoft Japan has changed its benefits to include LGBT relationships in its definition of dependents. GLEAM started in the US HQ and has now come to Japan.
- Nomura has “I am an LGBT Ally” stickers up in its offices. Since acquiring Lehman Bros which had its on LGBT community, it realised it had to respond.
- Shiseido participated in Tokyo Rainbow Pride in April 2015
So there is not much political pressure on Japanese companies to consider LGBT in any diversity initiatives, as there is with gender. Japanese consumers are fairly supportive, with over half saying that they would view positively a company which was supportive of LGBT people. In terms of shareholder pressure, Daniel Loeb of Third Point, an activist investor in Fanuc and Sony is a supporter of LGBT rights, and foreign shareholdings in many Japanese companies is creeping up. Indeed the Nikkei feature points out that “LGBT Is the latest management issue outside of Japan”.
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