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Employing Diversity


Nov.  15  – Atsugi, Japan – Japan Inc, lauded for decades for its manufacturing knowhow, is now focused on something else to boost its productivity and bottom line: diversity.

That topic brought together Toshiba President & CEO Norio Sasaki and Nissan Chief Operating Officer Toshiyuki Shiga to discuss what it means for businesses that make the majority of sales beyond Japan’s borders.

“As a manufacturer, we’re thinking to make diversity a strategic advantage at Nissan,” said Shiga, “As we compete with other Japanese carmakers, we want to forcefully pursue cultural and gender diversity, which will bring us closer to our customers and allow us to better understand their needs.”

Toshiba’s Sasaki also sees the importance of diversity for better management of local staff and for development of a better local product.

“We have 94,000 non-Japanese employees,” said Sasaki. “We’re promoting localization of management with 300 subsidiaries worldwide, and 59% of them have foreign presidents. I think that’s a strong distinction for Toshiba (among Japanese companies).”

Nissan has taken a top-down approach to diversity since French Lebanese-Brazilian Carlos Ghosn took the helm in 2001.

Some 15 years ago all Nissan executives were Japanese, but now nearly half of the company’s top 100 jobs are held by foreign-born executives.

Looking around the room at a nearly all-male audience, the obvious question , though, is how does a Japanese company promote women to the upper echelons of management?

In this year’s World Economic Forum report on the Global Gender Gap, Japan ranked 101st, three places down from last year. Closing that gap could increase the country’s productivity by as much as 16%, the report said.

Those are potentially big gains for companies like Nissan, Toshiba and P&G, who – at events like this – are trying to figure out not only how to bring more women into the workforce and increase diversity in their management.

Yukiko Tsujimoto, communications director at P&G Japan , who joined as the only female executive on  the diversity panel, said most Japanese companies are just beginning to scratch the surface.

“People are starting to feel that it’s important to have a different point of view and not only for male and female but for different culture and others,” said Tsujimoto. “But they have just started thinking about it, so they haven’t gotten to the stage to leverage this kind of diversity yet.”

She says understanding the consumer and how they use the product requires creativity, often fostered by diversity.

We like to make sure first that the team reflects the diversity of our consumers,” said Tsujimoto. “We really need to have an understanding of the local consumers and that’s why we need diverse people to understand that, who are close to consumers’ life. And also to create the out-of-the-box or creative idea, we like to have different perspectives.”

Nissan’s Shiga said about 60% of car purchases are now made or influenced by females. No doubt, more female engineers and managers will help to channel that market reality into greater sales.

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