Bursting with positive, uplifting energy, the 24th International Conference for Women in Business, was held on July 7th in Daiba, Tokyo. Held annually since 1996, the ICWB is Japan’s largest diversity conference.
More than 800 participants, comprising over 25 nationalities and ranging from high school students to company owners,gathered in Daiba to gain insight and knowledge from the day’s 58 speakers, all of whom are at the forefront of their fields.
The theme this year was “SCALE UP” and it applies broadly; scale up your business, your network, your mindset, lifestyle, or work style, and then expand your perspective throughout Japan and the world. With this theme, the Conference aimed to ignite passion in the hearts of all the participants and spur them to take action to scale up in every way they find fulfilling.
Even early in the morning, there was excitement in the air. Participants from all over Japan started forming a line outside the venue at 7:30 a.m. When the doors opened at 9:00, they filled the seats immediately and quickly began to exchange business cards and get to know each other. At 10:00 sharp, ICWB Chair Kaori Sasaki welcomed everyone and explained the background and meaning behind the “SCALE UP” theme.
This was followed by a surprise video message from Prime Minister of Japan Shinzō Abe in which he expressed his respect for Japan’s best known and largest international women’s business conference. He also spoke about his administration’s goal to increase the number of working women and reminded everyone that one theme of the 2019 G20, recently held in Osaka, was the empowerment of women.
In her keynote speech, Ms. Simona Leskovar, State Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Slovenia delivered the keynote speech titled “The view from a higher perch”. She spoke about her own scale-up at the Conference; first as a participant, then as a Roundtable panelist, and now as the keynote speaker.
Junko Nakagawa, who was named President and Chief Executive Officer at Nomura Asset Management in April 2019, was next at the podium to deliver her speech, “The inner thoughts of a new CEO”. She recalled her personal crossroads and stressed the importance of taking a broad perspective. Takako Suwa, the president of a small local factory who inspired a TV drama series, held the audience rapt with her life story and musings on her philosophy of work. British Paralympian Caz Walton, a multi-disciplinary athlete who won the first of her seventeen medals at the 1964 Tokyo Games, delivered a heartfelt and inspiring video message to the participants.
In the first Talk Show of the day, Keiko Kojima interviewed Seiko Noda, (chairperson of the Committee on Budget, House of Representatives), who explained that it is male legislators who need to change their mindsets. In the next Talk Show, Yumiko Murakami (head of the OECD Tokyo Centre), interviewed Kohzoh Takaoka (president & CEO of Nestlé Japan), Jun Suzuki (president & CEO of Teijin), and Akira Matsumoto (former chairman of Calbee). They agreed that diversity is profitable, but it is a means and not a goal. The third Talk Show featured female executives in finance; Keiko Tashiro (deputy president and senior executive managing director, Daiwa Securities Group), Chie Toriumi (former president and CEO of Nomura Trust and Banking), Izumi Kobayashi (former CEO of Merrill Lynch in Japan), and Masami Katakura (chairwoman & CEO of Ernst & Young ShinNihon LLC), candidly discussed their ideas on how to change Japan’s economy.
During the sumptuous course lunch, the tables buzzed with conversation about the morning’s speeches and Talk Shows. As dessert was served, the afternoon Talk Show’s covered “gender studies”, which had not been directly addressed at any of the previous 23 Conferences. The discussion was led by Chizuko Ueno, (sociologist, a leader of Japan’s feminism movement), Daisuke Tsuda, (artistic director for Aichi Triennale 2019), Renge Jibu, (journalist), and Sayuri Daimon (executive operating officer of The Japan Times). Ms. Ueno’s query, “Who should you thank for not having to serve tea?” paid homage to the women who have fought for gender equality and shared her wish for the next generation to carry on this spirit, which resonated strongly with many female participants.
In the final Talk Show, Keiko Kojima interviewed female pioneers Miki Ito and Lena Okajima, who are receiving international attention for their innovations in Japan’s space business. Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike gave a short, powerful speech and then closed the plenary session with, “Let’s make Reiwa an era of motivation, courage, and dreams. It is the women who can do this!”
In the afternoon Roundtable sessions, intense and lively discussions were held on themes such as the W20, Teal organizations, ESG investment, SDGs and media, local city revival, taking leadership in your 20s and 30s, and diversity management. Four of the ten Roundtables were conducted in English without interpretation. In each one, the first thirty minutes was devoted to discussion of the theme among the panelists, followed by a dynamic discussion and Q&A session that included all the participants. The afternoon Roundtable sessions are highly evaluated by the participants year after year.
At the end of the day, the participants gathered once again in the main hall for the Networking Party. As they enjoyed the delicious buffet and a glass of wine with newfound friends, Gold Partner Kobayashi Pharmaceutical delivered its message and then sixteen matching sponsors (private individuals who pay the entry fees for students) and their sponsees (college and high school students who wrote essays to receive sponsorship) came to the stage. Everyone in the hall was visibly moved, both by the generosity and aspirations of the sponsors and by the students, who spoke with passion about the lessons they were taking home from the Conference.
Later during the party, opera singer and former Miss Universe Japan Satomi Ogawa spoke about her scaled-up life and then gave a dazzling performance accompanied by the renowned Electone player Noriko Shimizu. The dozens of speakers who participated all day also took the mic to share their thoughts and offer inspiration.
After a day of learning and stimulation, the participants exude positive energy; the time spent here meeting and talking to other attendees is a completely different experience than that of a conventional networking party.
Participants excitedly shared their thoughts of the day with each other:
“I participated for the first time, but my perspective scaled up in just one day!”
“I gained confidence in my thoughts”
“The sentiments of the organizer and the participants merged and heated up, making me feel more excited about the power of women.”
The day lasted just ten hours but the participants’ feeling of having had a deeply satisfying and inspirational experience will last much longer.
The 25th ICWB will be held on Sunday, September 27, 2020. Daisuke Tsuda, who participated for the first time this year, shared his impression: “I’ve never been to such a warm, satisfying conference. I left a bit for work, but I just had to come back because it felt so comfortable. I’ll come next year too. It’s already on my calendar!” he said to loud applause.
To learn more about this exhilarating day, read the individual reports on the speeches and Roundtable sessions on the ICWB website.