(by Nikolaus Mach-Hour, Head of JCO Germany / VP global strategy)
After discussing changes in the management, executive and board layers in the first part of the series, in this second installment I would like to delve into changes within the Japanese organisations of JCO clients.
3. Changes in HR strategies
In the past, there seemed to be very strong differentiation between Japanese “Sei-shain” or regular employees and anyone that was hired in the subsidiaries. The systems and rules for work in general, L&D as well as the career planning were very different for Japanese and non-Japanese employees in the same company.
This fact and the belief that only foreigners that spoke fluent Japanese could successfully work in Japan led to a very low percentage of non-Japanese staff at HQ and its subsidiaries in the country.
But things have changed!
A. In recent years, a lot of effort is being put into getting more non-Japanese to work in Japan.
Some of the big JCO customers have started to recruit from universities outside of Japan when trying to fill the ranks of their staff in Japan. This time it is not about speaking Japanese as a precondition but because they either are experts and/or show potential.
When hiring new recruits in Japan, some companies have also moved away from the “preferred university” system, which left many good young candidates out of consideration because they had not graduated from a select few elite universities.
On top of that, JCO supports many customers that run global talent development programs which aim to prepare the best candidates for important assignments, regardless of their nationality.
B. It also has been remarkable that in very many of our meetings with HR teams at Japan HQ, at least a third of the representatives on the customers’ side were non-Japanese staff. In that sense, the “voice of the non-Japanese” part of the workforce is being represented much more strongly than ever before.
One more aspect is the fact that many companies now specifically hire Japanese “HR experts” mid-career where in the past they only used in-house staff that had only ever been in the same company to work on the HR strategy of the future.
C. In many companies there is a strong trend to unify the rules, treatment and systems that support expatriates that are sent into another country, regardless of their nationality.
At very progressive JCO customers the whole global HR department might already have been moved outside of Japan or spread out into a remote team over many countries while, and this might be the biggest change, also being in charge of all staff in Japan.
In the long run, we can expect a full consolidation and unification of the processes for all employees, regardless of nationality. This would constitute a paradigm shift compared to the old way in which Japanese long-term employees in- and outside of Japan were being treated as a class of their own.
4. Changes in policies on gender, inclusion and diversity
Everyone that has worked with or within Japanese companies will, in the past, have noticed a stark difference in the treatment of female and male staff.
This might have ranged from unwritten rules on what to wear as women (including often fashionable but uncomfortable high-heeled shoes in an business context) to a traditionally very low number of female managers, GMs and presidents.
But change, albeit slowly, is coming to Japan.
A. Flanked by the Womenomics strategy of the former Abe administration, which with moderate success since 2012 has been aiming to raise the percentage of female managers to 30% until 2030 (in 2021 still at 13.2%), many companies are now doing a lot more to allow women to combine their careers and family.
B. Official certifications like Kurumin, Eru-boshi or Nadeshiko can be attained by Japanese companies that support female staff through recruitment, employment continuity, working style, company childcare offers, and diverse career courses specifically for women. The changes listed under 1.a in this series are also part of this trend.
C. At many of our customers, in recent years the mandatory “office lady” uniform (typically with skirt and blouse) has been abandoned together with the typical color-coded clothing in factories (blue for male, rose for female workers).
D. Many JCO customers have now moved away from the former “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach regarding LBGTQI+ staff and are implementing a more active approach using open communication regarding their inclusion strategies (e.g. on their official homepages and in company campaigns) in- and outside of Japan.
All in all, a lot of change is underway in Japanese organisations while they are trying to catch up with global developments and standards.
(End of part two)
In the next installment of this series, we will take a look at changes at the actual workplace and at changes in business strategy.