“It's hard to believe it's online!”, exclaimed many participants from around the word. On Sunday, July 10, 2022, the highly acclaimed International Conference for Women in Business (ICWB), the largest diversity conference in Japan, was held online.
This year, the 27th annual conference was again attended by a wide range of participants, from CEOs and ambassadors to students and entrepreneurs. More than 1,100 participants attended from 20 countries; Japan, the United States, Yemen, the United Kingdom, Indonesia, Australia, Canada, South Korea, Greece, Colombia, Switzerland, China, Paraguay, the Philippines, Brazil, France, Vietnam, South Africa, Mexico, and Malaysia. The percentage of men, which grows every year, reached 19.6% this year. This year's theme was "Drive Diversity. More than 50 leaders from around the world shared their ideas and experiences with the acceleration of diversity in a variety of industries and fields.
Just before the Conference started at 10:00 am, a video featuring highlights of the past 26 years of ICWB gave the participants a taste of what was to come. Kaori Sasaki, Founder, Producer and Chair, took the main stage in Tokyo. Japan's leading expert on diversity, she has produced the ICWB, one of Japan's largest diversity conferences for 27 years and has positively impacted the lives of more than 30,000 participants through the ICWB alone.
First, she expressed her condolences to former Prime Minister Abe, who had passed away a few days before. The Prime Minister spoke at four ICWBs and pushed his government to promote women's activities. Kaori Sasaki declared, "Today, I would like to carry on with strong energy, with the meaning of continuing his legacy. Then, a message from Prime Minister Kishida was read on his behalf by Masako Mori, Advisor to the Prime Minister.
Ms. Sasaki also conveyed her thoughts to the participants, saying, "I hope that everyone will learn more from today's Conference and take a big step forward. She explained why she chose “Drive Diversity” as this year’s theme: “Drive” means the willingness to take the initiative and move things along, to speed up and be proactive. Diversity is not only a mechanism created by an organization. It is important for each and every one of us to drive our own diversity. Today, I would like to learn a lot, give a lot to each other, and make it a good day. Are you ready?" she called out to the participants from all over the world, and the nonstop 10-hours event began.
The stage was first set for Paraguay, where it was already late at night. Ms. Yoshie Nakatani, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Japan to Paraguay, was the first speaker. She said that it is "people," that are important and that we must promote diversity by making full use of our human power. Next, Ms. Miki Takao, Executive Producer of NHK World, reported from New York City. Standing in front of the Stonewall Inn in Manhattan, where the Pride Parade began, she told the story of the fight of LGBTQ people. Next, Airi Horie, CEO of Women's Startup Lab Impact Foundation in Silicon Valley, California inspired the participants, saying, "Even a small step can be a big change if millions of people put it into practice.” Next, Mr. James Aquilina, President and General Manager of ELC Japan, the Japanese subsidiary of Estee Lauder Companies, introduced their powerful diversity message: "Innovation and creativity are necessary elements to win.
Next up was Tamotsu Hiiro, CEO of McDonald's Holdings Japan, and Makiko Eda, Japan Representative of the World Economic Forum, who discussed how diversity management can lead to strong teams who can accelerate business. Then Maiko Todoroki, President & CEO of Poppins, Japan's first SDGs listing; Jun Miyaji, President & CEO of Cartier Japan; Mitsuru Chino, Full-time Auditor of Itochu Corporation and until recently a CEO in the US; and Yumiko Murakami, General Partner of ESG investor, MPower Partners, Inc. had a discussion on the theme of "New Capitalism" created through diversity management.
After a quick morning run-through, video messages from then college students who had participated in the past with support from the Matching Sponsor Program, in which participants sponsor student participants, were introduced at the Conference. The Matching Sponsor Program is a support program created by Kaori Sasaki after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster. Initially, Sponsors supported disaster victims, but now it has become a wonderful program that matches exceptional high school and university students with Sponsors, who pay their entry fee and mentor the students before, during, and after the Conference. To date, over 200 students have experienced diversity through this program. During the lunch networking session, which was filled with warmth after hearing messages from students who had participated in previous years, participants from around the world connected with like-minded participants and engaged in conversation like old friends.
Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike opened the afternoon session opened with a video message introducing the Tokyo Metropolitan Government's measures to support female business owners. She encouraged the participants to "overcome structural challenges and work together toward a brighter future.”
Next up was "Technologies Now," an introduction of the latest technologies, including "Seeing AI," an app that supports the visually impaired, in the metaverse. With messages from Akiko Ishii, President of Self Support Management; Anis Uzzaman, CEO of Pegasus Tech Ventures; and Elizabeth Gazda, CEO of Embr Labs, which supports menopausal women, the audience experienced the cutting-edge technology now. In addition, participants enjoyed a fantastic virtual reality world through the artwork of VR artist Aimi Sekiguchi.
Joichi Ito, Director of Digital Garage, and Fujishiro Ishiguro, Director of Netyear Group, both highly regarded Silicon Valley veterans, spoke about “The Future Predicted by Technology”, covering topics such as Web3 and DAO.
Switching gears, Chie Toriumi, Head of Content Company, Nomura Holdings; Sue Kinoshita, Minister Counselor, British Embassy in Japan; Tamao Sasada, Representative in Japan, Bank of America; and Asako Aoyama, Executive Officer, NEC, who are all very active in the financial world in Japan covered a wide range of topics, such as financial literacy and the use of numbers to move organizations forward. Ms. Asako Aoyama, an executive officer of the Japan Securities Dealers Association (JSEC), and other leaders who are very active in the Japanese business world with their financial expertise, proved that women are not good with numbers and, on the contrary, have the ability to add stories to numbers to run powerful businesses.
Ms. Kathy Matsui, a former Goldman Sachs employee who created "Womenomics", then addressed the strong relationship between diversity and corporate performance and the meaning of investment, along with a wealth of data. Wendy Teleki of the World Bank Group Women's Entrepreneurial Finance Initiative (We-Fi) explained how important funding is for women entrepreneurs around the world, based on data. Ms. Sasaki is supporting the Initiatives as We-Fi's Japan Champion.
The stage then moves from Tokyo to Yemen in the Middle East. Safia Al-Jabri of Small and Micro Enterprise Promotion Service (SMEPS), a subsidiary of the Yemeni Development and Social Fund, spoke passionately about her experiences with investing in and achieving results for women entrepreneurs in the midst of ongoing conflict and persistent discrimination against women.
In a talk show, top Japanese actress and model Kiko Mizuhara spoke with Ms. Sasaki about how to achieve psychological safety on the set of a photo shoot, which is a new concept in Japan. Ms. Mizuhara explained why the "Intimacy Coordinator" role is so important and shared her own experience on set.
Five hours in, the Roundtables began. These are 70-minute panel discussion on five themes: a 30-minute discussion is led by the panelists followed by a lively Q&A discussion.
This year's five themes were "Respect. How to Increase Psychological Safety in an Organization," "Age Diversity: Building an Organization of the Future with Youth," Making the Best of the Careers in Science," "SDGs and Business," and "Women on Boards,: Global Update. Participants were free to choose the Roundtables that most interested them. These sessions are always stimulating and insightful. One participant expressed her excitement, saying, "I'm so glad that I joined. This was a great opportunity for discussion!”
After the Roundtables, we moved on to the plenary session. The evening session started in Geneva, Switzerland, where it was already Sunday morning. Rafael Diez de Medina, Director of Statistics at the International Labor Organization (ILO) Headquarters, presented the latest ILO survey data and talked about the principles for promoting D&I in organizations. Ms. Taide Guajardo, Senior Vice President, P&G European Brands, also from Geneva, shared her experience of managing 49 countries in Europe, She also introduced the importance of promoting diversity through advertising and the strength and importance of the messages that companies give to society through advertising, along with case examples.
Next, leading Japanese politicians joined from Tokyo. First, Seiko Noda, member of the House of Representatives and minister for gender equality, talked about the movement and about issues of gender equality, appealing to the participants to "turn a pinch into an opportunity.” Taro Kono, a member of the House of Representatives, shared his own valuable experience and spoke strongly about the importance of having a diverse range of people in the Diet, saying, "In order to make policies, it is important to be able to discuss issues with strong passion, as if they were your own problems.”
The stage once again moved to Europe.
Fred Abrahams of Human Rights Watch, who works with refugees near the Ukrainian border that the world is now watching closely, made a sincere plea, "Your voices have a great impact. You can make a difference with people all over the world". Ms. Miwa Kato, Director of Global Operations, UNODC, from Vienna, Austria made a strong appeal to "strengthen the power of dialogue and create a peaceful world together.”
Back in Tokyo, Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi, who returned to Earth last year from his third ISS stay, joined Ms. Sasaki in a talk show. Noguchi spoke about his post-JAXA work as a board member of the Institute for International Socio-Economic Studies, a think tank of the NEC Group. He also shared what he learned at ICWB 2021 under the theme NEXT CHAPTERS and the diversity promotion mentioned by NEC President Takayuki Morita, who was on the panel. She revealed that the deciding factor for her decision was what she learned when she attended last year's International Women's Business Conference. He further mentioned his appointment to the Advisory Board of e-Woman and the importance of participating in the Diversity Index.
The day’s second networking session began, allowing participants from around the world meet online to share the day's learning and excitement and to get to know each other.
In the closing session. Ms. Tomoko Hayashi, who has been the Director General of the Gender Equality Bureau at the Cabinet Office, gave a powerful message, emphasizing that departments promoting diversity in government and business must themselves be diverse.
As the session came to a close, the Conference speakers gathered on the screen from all over the world! “I was overwhelmed!" and "We were able to update each other while learning from each other," were some of the comments that filled the screen.
Finally, Ms. Sasaki thanked everyone for their passionate participation and closed the 27th Conference with the words, "Today we have learned about how to drive diversity. I hope each of us will take ownership and drive diversity powerfully to move forward. See you next year!"
On the screen, highlights from the day’s Conference played like a movie. The conference ended at 8:20 p.m. in Tokyo, 10 hours and 20 minutes after the start.
Immediately the screen was flooded with comments from hundreds of the participants. “I was so impressed by the 10 hours that I didn't even feel it", "I realized that it is not about having the ability, but about having the passion”, and "I realized that diversity is not something you hear and learn, but something you drive and push forward.” During and shortly after the Conference, it became clear that something had shifted; we took a giant step toward "Drive Diversity".
The 28th International Women's Business Conference will be held on July 9, 2023, with simultaneous interpretation in English and Japanese. It is a 10-hour non-stop diversity conference like no other in the world. Don't miss it!