External Director Interview

Dialog with Kazuko Takamatsu on "Management and Diversity"

Representative Director and President Takashi Ichinose asked Kazuko Takamatsu her opinion on necessity and challenges of diversity for corporate, etc.

Diversity is Indispensable to Corporate Success

Ichinose: To begin with, could you please tell me your impression of having served as an external director of Dexerials for two years?

Takamatsu: The first thing that struck me was that Dexerials is a diligent, sincere company. I feel both a sense of reward and heavy responsibility in serving as a director in the promising materials industry.

Ichinose: Ms. Takamatsu, you are the executive director and secretariat of the Japan Institute for Women's Empowerment & Diversity Management, which engages in many different educational and support activities to promote diversity and prevent harassment in establishing a workplace environment. We have also asked you to give presentations to female employees and managerial level employees at Dexerials. To review that, why is it important for a company that works to earn a profit to focus on diversity? Some argue that it might be more efficient to all move in one direction under a single consensus.

Takamatsu: It is true that a top-down organization with a monolithic organizational culture was more efficient in a high growth era. However, we are now in age of networking. Information spreads throughout the world instantaneously and there is also a global exchange of people and goods. The pace of change in society is also accelerating with each passing year. A one-pattern response will not suffice in such an environment. It is precisely the broad range of opinions from a diverse array of people that enables us to seek out the best solution.

Anticipating another's intentions is regarded as important in Japan, but that does not translate well in a diverse environment. Explaining everything when proceeding with work is fundamental. If employees undertake work with a clear understanding of why they are performing the work, where and how the results will be used, and what degree of urgency and what level of perfection are necessary, it will improve efficiency, leading to higher productivity and greater achievements.
It will also be easier for the company to secure top-notch human resources if it seeks out many kinds of people, including women and foreign nationals. The company will also lose out if the people in the company are unable to fully demonstrate their innate potential.

Challenges in Promoting Diversity

Ichinose: When we speak of diversity, the effective use and promotion of women is often the first example given, yet sometimes this puzzles me. Dexerials has taken it upon itself to improve its system to enable flexibility in work styles. For example, the company has introduced flex time, although it is still the exception depending on the occupational position, and has also established child care and nursing care leave. In addition, some male employees take child care leave and the atmosphere doesn't make it difficult to use the system either. I don't think the company is lagging in terms of the ease of working, but there are few women in management. That leaves us wondering if something is lacking that would encourage the effective use of women.

Takamatsu: I definitely think Dexerials is an agreeable place to work. The average number of years worked by women actually exceeds that for men. The reason why they are not well represented in management ranks despite that is because they were not developed as strategic forces. The mindset, which mirrored that of society, was that women would just get married, have children and resign, so important work was not assigned to them. Women also found it difficult to continue work at the same level as men after having a child, so there is a tendency for them to limit their own work from the outset. That leaves women with insufficient experience and skills, making it hard for them to be promoted.
In the future, we need to make an active effort to ensure that women accumulate a broad range of experiences and develop them properly.
An obstacle to that will be the "excessive consideration for women" of men. There is a tendency for men to not assign women tough work because they feel that they should protect women. Work experience is the basis for human resources development. We need to delegate difficult work and tough tasks to women as well, give them the experience of failure, and develop them. Develop female employees as strategic forces, just as we do male employees, without giving them special consideration. This also requires women to be diligent in building their careers, without depending on excessive care of men.
The way men work is also a problem. We need to change the work style of working until late at night on a daily basis and also being willing to work on weekends and go on business trips. Unless we create an environment where both women and men work efficiently, return home early, and share the burden of household duties and child-rearing between spouses, it will not be an environment that enables the effective use of women in the true sense.

Ichinose: I also feel that it won't suffice if all of the effort to promote the effective use of women is through company efforts alone, in some respects. Take the issues of job relocation of a spouse, or the lack of childcare centers even though the company wants an employee to return to work early, for example. Leaving a job to perform nursing care is also a pressing issue for men and women alike.

Takamatsu: There is also a need to establish the social infrastructure, but government administration does not move quickly and making progress on this is not that easy. What is happening now is important to the people who are working now. Ten years from now is too late.
We can also seek ways to make it easier to enroll a child in pre-school, move to local areas that offer an adequate pre-school system, or utilize various kinds of daycare services, even on an individual basis. Company can also help by providing information and assistance. The leave system and re-employment system address the job relocation of a spouse to some extent, and there are also people who can accommodate this by using IT to work from home. The point is whether they want to go to that much effort to work at the same company.

What does a truly diverse company look like?

Ichinose: Diversity includes gender, age, nationality, and many other things. Dexerials also has employees of various nationalities working in our offices in Japan and overseas. The first step is to improve the environment and create one in which all employees can play active roles and earn promotions, regardless of their attributes. Beyond that, I would like for everyone to demonstrate his or her different skills, experience, and unique characteristics to give the company strength. That is the ultimate goal. What kinds of things should we focus on to accomplish that?

Takamatsu: The main point is not to get hung up on attributes, but to enable employees to fully demonstrate their individual skills on the premise that all people are different one by one. To accomplish that, it is unreasonable to expect everyone to work in the same manner. Look at each person individually, and have each person demonstrate his/her skills through work and a work style that suits him/her. I think this will require major changes in the employment system in Japan and the way companies have looked at things up to this point. We still need to engage in a process of trial and error to identify how we can change this.

Ichinose: Utilizing different point of view is also in line with our corporate vision, "Value Matters." This is a concept that emphasizes the importance of creating new value in the world. Employees provide new value that helps meet the needs of customers and of society through flexible thinking and taking the individual initiative to find solutions to problems. I would like to grow the company as a group by creating a virtuous cycle. This cycle would begin with establishing a culture that makes it a pleasant place to work. This would enable employees to fully demonstrate their skills, and would, in turn, lead to growth of the company.