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May 19, 2009


Human Diversity Makes Sustainable Organizations

tamurasan.jpg Copyright JFS

Lecturer: Taro Tamura, Representative of Institute for Human Diversity Japan

Today's topic, "Diversity," will be a critical keyword in the next several years. I think everyone will have to consider diversity when they work at any company. I would like to talk about what human diversity means and about the features of communities and organizations that consider human diversity.

Severity of Society without Diversity - Bitter Lessons Learned from Disaster

Two years ago, I established an organization called the Institute for Human Diversity Japan. The company conducts case studies and seminars and provides consultation services to businesses on the theme of "Diversity to Enhance Communities and Organizations." I got into this business because of the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake 14 years ago. During the disaster, I was astonished to learn how hard it is to live in a society without consideration for diversity. Things I felt at that time became the basis of my strong interest in diversity.

One of the seriously damaged areas was the old residential district with low-rent housing units, where many foreign students, single elderly people and physically-challenged people lived. It is a common phenomenon all over the world to have an old town district called "inner city" at the center of an urban city with a high concentration of low-income population including immigrants. When a disaster strikes, these old houses are prone to collapse and fire. From two days after the earthquake, we conducted volunteer activities to provide information in multiple languages for foreigners living in the area who had a hard time gaining support in Japanese.

Subsequently at the Mid Niigata Prefecture Earthquake in 2004, we visited evacuation centers where many foreigners were staying to provide information in multiple languages. School gymnasiums were first converted into evacuation centers, but unlike Japanese who participated in disaster drills from their childhood, foreigners even didn't know the existence of evacuation centers. Elderly people without much physical strength failed to escape swiftly and a nearby school gymnasium was sometimes already completely occupied by the time they arrived there. Therefore, they had to go to other public facilities with the lights on such as city halls or libraries. For example, as many as 40 Brazilians were staying at the lobby of city hall and 120 Chinese were staying at a library. Where we saw many foreigners, we also saw many Japanese elderly people.

Evacuation centers in Japan lack consideration more than the refugee camps in developing countries, such as in Africa. At a refugee camp, refugee workers count the number of people and calculate necessary calories, but at the Japanese evacuation centers, the workers think that bringing in some bread and rice balls would be just fine. When there are many people, some may want to have low-sodium food or non-allergic food, or some may have restriction of their diet for religious reasons. But usually these alternatives are not considered at all.

The sanitary problem is also serious. At the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake, some 500 people died after they were displaced into evacuation centers. The temporary Japanese-style toilets installed outside were cold and unfriendly to elderly users. Some people wouldn't drink much water to avoid going to the toilet. With their dried throat, quite a few choked on food to death. At the Mid Niigata Prefecture Earthquake, the economic class syndrome at the evacuation centers, covered by the media, was allegedly caused partly because of the lack of adequate water. Why isn't it possible to consider the needs of different people at an evacuation center?

In Japan, many districts routinely participate in disaster drills, but most of the participants are healthy people in the communities. The public officials who were in charge of disaster prevention planning in the prefectures attacked by the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake were all male. Then it would be difficult to think of necessary services at the evacuation centers including the preferred types of toilet and the places to change diapers or clothes. A group consisting of only healthy males won't be able to come up with an evacuation center where every citizen can feel secure. There are all kinds of people with disabilities or allergies, as well as senior citizens and foreigners. We need to have a variety of members to think together.

No Discrimination is Not Enough

Diversity in an organization means to consider human diversity and to maintain a system promoting it in human affairs, business operations and development of products and services.

Specifically, in the human affairs aspect, we need to consider how to employ diverse people and how to construct diversity strategies at the time of dispatching workers to certain positions and promoting workers. In the business operation, we need to consider how to give instructions and trainings. For instance, about one in forty people has a color deficiency problem. We need to consider if these PowerPoint slides are easy to see for such people too. Some companies consider diversity in the human affairs aspect by employing a certain number of people with disabilities and by having a certain number of female workers in managerial positions. But whether or not a comfortable working environment is actually created every day is a different story at many workplaces. Only hiring is far from enough.

Japanese organizations also need to promote consideration about diversity of customers at the development stage of products and services. For instance, a private railway company in the Kansai region (centered in Osaka) was sued for a lack of consideration for color blindness. The timetable at the platform of station showed red bold outline with white inner color for super express and green bold outline with white inner color for local express. The company did not realize that people who can't distinguish green and red were unable to differentiate one from another.

Consideration for diversity is different from human affairs without discrimination. Coming out even is not good enough. We need to continue to improve the situation. An organization with diverse personnel is consequently strong, because the world we live in is diverse. An organization without diversity will not be able to answer the needs of the world that is diverse.

Aiming at Harmonious Society in which Both Changes

When people with different cultural backgrounds come to our society, there are mainly four types of responses. They are "exclusion," "assimilation," "habitat segregation" and "coexistence." In other words, there are two frameworks, whether or not we accept them, and whether we think they will change or they won't change forever.

The first "exclusion" means "They can stay for a while, but not forever. Please leave sometime soon." The second "assimilation" means "They are different now, but they will change and become like us in a year or so. They have to change."

The third "habitat segregation" means "They can stay, but please don't come into our territory" or "Foreigners must live in their own districts."

The idea of diversity is close to "kyosei" ("coexistence" or "harmony") in Japanese. Both sides change in this case. Societies and organizations that accept strangers will change to work and live together. That is the harmonious diversity. For instance, when a female worker comes to work at an office with only male members, the idea of diversity requires the organization itself to change rather than asking only the female to change.

The example of male and female is rather easy to understand, but the problem is when it comes to the case of accepting foreigners, people suddenly find it impossible to understand. When we say, "Japanese people can change, too" when foreigners come, many people suddenly ask "Why do we have to change?"

Response Needed for Demographically Changing Society

We need to pay attention to demographic changes in addition to climate change. For instance, in about the 1970s, the social system was functioning fine because the birth rate was high due to the second baby boom and the number of workers who pay taxes exceeded that of elderly people who depended on the tax revenue. In 2050, however, the number of elderly people will sharply increase while the number of workers will substantially decrease. The society will not function if the systems including social securities are the same.

According to the demographic forecast of the world, the Asian countries besides those in South Asia have the same problem of low birthrate and an aging population just like Japan. The total fertility rate is dropping faster than that of Japan in some countries. Foreign work force will be needed in China and Korea, but a country like Japan that doesn't consider diversity will not be able to attract foreign workers. Furthermore, I think young people in Japan will also leave such country. In reality, many people still don't realize the Japanese society as a whole will not function anymore if nothing is done.

There is a region that realized this 30 years ago. It is the Northern Europe:

For instance, Sweden is famous for its excellent welfare system although the tax rate is high. In the 1970s, the Swedish government introduced immigration policy along with a high-burden and high-welfare policy. It was an attempt to socialize elderly care and welfare that had been a family responsibility. The country started to accept immigrants who can support the new system.

The Swedish government provides Swedish language education to the immigrants and gives consideration to the environment in which the immigrants can maintain their native language and culture. A friend of mine who is a resident Korean in Japan stayed in Sweden before. He was very impressed about Sweden. He said, "When I told them 'My son's culture is Korean,' a Swedish person came to teach our son the Korean culture. What a wonderful country!"

It has been more than 30 years since the Swedish government introduced these policies, and the female employment rate has risen and the total fertility rate is maintained at almost the same level as before. The improvement of female employment rate and acceptance of immigrants do not contradict but create synergetic effects. Some say, "When the female employment rate rises, the birth rate drops," but it is actually opposite. It is known that countries with a high female employment rate have a high birth rate.

In Sweden where the government developed a system, accepted immigrants, and tackled with comprehensive population policy, people built a culture in which various cultural backgrounds are considered and naturally gender equality is promoted. Thus the country is creating a society that can somewhat respond to a demographically changing society. Japan is 30 years behind. The future of Japan will be devastating if the country can't make such choice now.

Community-wide Social Responsibility

It is impossible for companies alone to promote increasing the ratio of female workers and the number of workers with disabilities. For instance, the female employment rate depends on the number of children waiting to be enrolled in a daycare center. Some communities have no children waiting because the municipality measures and policies are well implemented, but others have many children on the waiting list. Also, some communities have non-profit organizations (NPOs) that provide support to people with disabilities to find jobs, but others don't. It is a huge responsibility companies alone can't fulfill no matter how hard they try.

Companies have been required to fulfill many responsibilities. I would like to suggest that we should stop pressing the responsibilities only on companies in our society. It is about time to think about a community-wide social responsibility, not only the corporate social responsibility.

Sharing situations and information, companies, municipalities and NPOs have to organize a community-wide discussion to explore, for instance, how to raise female employment rate and the employment rate of people with disabilities and how to provide Japanese education to foreigners. Only through these efforts, companies can consider diversity.

I think the major factor that is preventing the consideration for diversity is actually the citizens. A president of a company that manufactures plastic parts for cell phones and printers told me that consumers' demand for cheap products may eventually prevent pay increase of foreign workers in the factory. He thinks it is impossible to provide cell phones and printers at a low price if he considers human diversity. Many of the workers at a factory that make lunch boxes for convenience stores are foreigners. If we want to have the lunch boxes ready at the convenience stores by 7 am, someone must make them during the night, but Japanese people don't want to work under such working conditions. Consequently, because of us, the citizens that seek for too low price and too much convenience, the human diversity is put behind.

During the past 10 years, the environmental problems have gained more consideration. Next is the consideration for human diversity. I think the future of sustainable organizations and sustainable communities depend on whether or not we can establish a community that takes human diversity into consideration within about five years.


Taro Tamura, Representative of Institute for Human Diversity Japan

Taro Tamura participated in the creation of the Foreigners' Earthquake Information Center in response to the Great Hanshin Earthquake in 1995. From there, he went on to create the Center for Multicultural Information and Assistance. In April 2004, he became a research editor for the International Institute for Human, Organization and the Earth (IIHOE) and changed the focus of his activities to supporting the management of NPOs and local governments. His work has focused on a private sector point of view towards societal reform. In 2004, Mr. Tamura created the NPO "edge" (Entrance for Designing Global Entrepreneurship) utilizing his own social entrepreneurial experiences to help support the efforts of other young social entrepreneurs.

In January 2007, he founded Diversity Japan and became the representative. Mr. Tamura is very active in social responsibility research, and regularly offers training and advises about diversity strategies to communities that are facing new diversity challenges.


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