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Stories by Larry Bates & Miki Oikawa, Corporate Diversity & Inclusion - June 19th Sketch Summer 2024 Preview Article Part 1 - Blueprinting Tomorrow: a Chief Officer’s Co-Creation Table


An altered color view of Tokyo Tower from a window at a Wework office

Welcome to Sketch Summer 2024, an exclusive enterprise Chief Officers' discussion party hosted by Culturelabs, where leaders come together to share their stories and spark ideas in a flat, inclusive small-group setting. This time, we will feature a series of compelling narratives from CXO Storytellers. These profiles offer a glimpse into the experiences of leaders who have navigated the complexities of the corporate world, championed diversity and inclusion, and harnessed the digital and transformative power of people. Dive into these profiles and get a taste of the thought-provoking discussions to take place at Sketch Summer 2024. (Click here for more information on Sketch Summer 2024)

Over the next three weeks, we will provide excerpts from stories by our CXO Storytellers. This week, we begin with stories of transformative inclusion, focusing on creating a vision that enables diverse talent to actively participate.

Championing Inclusion and Diversity in Corporate Japan

Larry Bates reclining on a chair in front of paintings and books

Larry Bates, Former Board Member, Managing Executive Officer, General Counsel, Chief Compliance Officer and Chief Risk Officer, Panasonic Holdings Corporation


Larry Bates delves into the experience of coming out in both American and Japanese corporate environments, highlighting the challenges and progress over time. Bates shares personal experiences, illustrating the evolving attitudes towards LGBTQ inclusion in the workplace, from initial hesitancy to eventual acceptance and advocacy. His story emphasizes the importance of fostering inclusive environments for diverse talents, citing benefits to productivity and employee retention. Furthermore, he underscores the role of leadership in promoting diversity and inclusion, stressing the need for genuine commitment and measurable progress at all levels of the organization.

Leading the Charge for Inclusion and Diversity at Pola Inc

Miki Oikawa, Representative Director and President, Pola Inc

Miki Oikawa, Representative Director and President, Pola Inc posing for a profile picture

Miki Oikawa’s story discusses their leadership journey as a woman in Japan. She emphasizes the importance of nurturing the next generation of women leaders and driving internal changes within the company. Talking about strategies implemented to ensure equal opportunities she talks about initiatives rooted in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) principles, as well as cultural reforms to foster an environment where everyone can thrive authentically. Oikawa highlights the significance of mentorship and sponsorship for women and minorities, stressing the need for shared experiences and opportunities to advance. She inspires leaders to embrace challenges and gain valuable experiences, while advocating for accurate visibility and the elimination of unconscious biases in recruitment and promotion processes.


Championing Inclusion and Diversity in Corporate Japan

Larry Bates, Former Board Member, Managing Executive Officer, General Counsel, Chief Compliance Officer and Chief Risk Officer, Panasonic Holdings Corporation

Larry Bates reclining on a chair in front of paintings and books

Q: Could you share your experience of coming out at both an American and a major Japanese company in Japan?

A: I view coming out as a lifelong process because every interpersonal context is different. Unless you’re as famous as the President of the U.S., a Hollywood star, a music pop icon, or a sports hero, you're always faced with decisions on how to present and explain yourself in new contexts. (I wish more famous people would come out as role models.)

I worked for GE, a U.S. manufacturing company, from 1992, with bases in the American Northeast and Midwest, while I was based in Asia. Even in the U.S., let alone Tokyo and Hong Kong where I was based, it was rare for people to come out in the workplace. But the world was changing— President Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, civil union and marriage laws were being proposed at state levels, sparking discussions and greater numbers of people coming out, particularly in the U.S..

People began noting discrimination and demanding their rights. In my company, I confided in my boss about being HIV positive and gay in 1995, and he encouraged me to stay, leading to a successful career. However, when I transferred to Tokyo in 1998, I couldn't get the company to support moving my partner from Hong Kong due to immigration challenges. Despite these personal and professional challenges, social and workforce developments gradually improved. By 2004, I could apply for U.S. healthcare benefits for my partner, enter into a New Zealand civil union in 2007, and marry in California in 2008. All this helped boost my confidence to come out more fully in professional contexts, even though it was still then a one-on-one process at the time.  That too started changing when I put my family (including my husband and my children) in my official American Chamber of Commerce bio when I ran for ACCJ President in 2010 and then again in 2012.  

By the time I joined LIXIL in 2014 and Panasonic in 2018 until my retirement in 2022, I had found the confidence and support to be myself and advocate for change, serving as a role model in Japan. Fortunately, both companies were at the forefront of progress, even though more work is needed over all in Japan.

Q: Why do you believe it's crucial for companies to foster an inclusive environment for diverse talents? Is this especially true in Japan?

A: Companies benefit when LGBTQ employees, not a small number according to surveys, feel comfortable and productive in their roles, fostering better and more productive collaboration. A surprising number of people leave companies due to discomfort in being themselves. Leaders, from my experience, can be more authentic and relatable if they are authentic - and that is crucial in making tough decisions. Practical issues like spouse and family recognition also influence comfort in coming out, leading to a positive cycle of support and change - especially for legal change where needed.

Q: What were some challenges you faced during your journey, and how did you overcome them?

A: Immigration status for my husband and legal recognition for my family were significant challenges, creating a glass ceiling in my U.S. company especially because there is an expectation that leaders need to move around different regions to go up the ladder. However, overcoming these challenges while remaining in Asia led to an unexpected and deeper career in Japan at the forefront of law, compliance, government affairs, and business.

Q: In your opinion, what role should leadership play in promoting inclusion and diversity within organizations? Are there companies where leadership may be fully on board but middle management creates barriers to inclusion and diversity?

A: Leaders must “walk the talk” as Jack Welch (CEO of GE from 1981-2001) used to say. They must align actions with inclusive rhetoric, including LGBTQ inclusion. While diversity efforts in Japan have mainly focused on gender, companies must recognize the value of inclusivity across LGBTQ, nationality, minority, and business background spectrums for global competitiveness. Effective communication and measurement of progress at all levels, including middle management, are crucial for fostering inclusion and diversity.


Leading the Charge for Inclusion and Diversity at Pola Inc

Miki Oikawa, Representative Director and President, Pola Inc

Miki Oikawa, Representative Director and President, Pola Inc posing for a profile picture

Q: Despite the challenges faced by women and minorities, why did you aim for positions like president or CEO?

A: I felt it was important to nurture the next generation, as I believed that if I held back, the path for future (women) successors might be blocked. Additionally, I had a sense of mission to bring about certain changes within the company.

Q: What strategies are you implementing to ensure equal opportunities for all employees?

A: We are implementing talent development strategies, organizational strategies, and cultural reforms based on DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion). We aim to create an environment where everyone can grow while being true to themselves. Specifically, we focus on building organizational culture, addressing visible barriers, eliminating gender bias, and developing actions rooted in the individual’s will, supported by reskilling programs. Recently, our efforts have been recognized with awards such as the Career Ownership Management's HR Reform award, the D&I Award 2023's Best Workplace, and the Wellbeing Award for Excellence.

Q: How do you plan to create an inclusive environment for women and minorities within the company?

A: With the above-mentioned strategies, we aim to create an environment where everyone can display their abilities, engage in mutual growth, and amplify each other's strengths, regardless of individual differences.

Q: How important do you think mentorship and sponsorship are for the career advancement of women and minorities?

A: While mentorship and sponsorship are common for men, women often have fewer mentors due to factors such as senior colleagues leaving due to childbirth or marriage, or being hindered in their career progression. Women who have experienced the challenges of childbirth and childcare are even scarcer as mentors. Though this is changing for men too, life work balance is crucial for women. And it is given that work and life are inseparable for women, mentors who have shared similar experiences can provide the courage to move forward. Sponsorship is also crucial for providing opportunities and recognizing talent, regardless of gender.

Q: What advice would you give to young women and minorities aspiring for leadership roles?

A: I would advise them to try and gain experience without worrying about success or failure. Every experience, including every failure, will eventually become an asset.

Q: How can companies address unconscious bias and promote diversity in recruitment and promotion processes?

A: Accurate visibility is crucial. Instead of relying solely on subjective evaluations from individual supervisors, incorporating external evaluations to objectively assess abilities is important. This involves defining the requirements for future talent based on the company's vision, eliminating seniority-based systems, and providing training to recognize and eliminate gender biases among supervisors.


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