How to Create Safe Places Talking about Diversity with UDA

How to Create Safe Places
Talking about Diversity with UDA

On September 12, 2019, Sony gathered together a variety of people from inside and outside the company to join in "Talking about Diversity with UDA" at the Main Conference Hall on the second floor of its Head Office in Tokyo, Japan. Sponsored jointly by Sony and UDA (University Diversity Alliance) as part of Pride House Tokyo 2019, this special event was designed to bring together people who normally have few chances to come into contact with each other, such as university students and faculty members, and people from companies and other organizations. The aim was to enable them to share ideas on the current situation on diversity and consider how to create locations where people can feel safe. Sony sponsored the event as part of its annual Diversity Week. Its aim was to deepen understanding of diversity and inclusion by encouraging people to consider matters from a variety of perspectives with a view to engendering social change and synergies. Some 400 people from companies, universities, and other organizations as well as Sony employees participated. Professor Robert Campbell gave the keynote speech, which was followed by a panel discussion. The proceedings at the conference hall were broadcast live to satellite locations at five universities in Japan belonging to UDA.

Keynote Speech by Robert Campbell

The first part of the event was a keynote speech by Robert Campbell, a well-known Japanese literature researcher and Director of the National Literature Research Museum in Japan. Professor Campbell, who was originally from the U.S.A. and served as an associate professor at the University of Tokyo for 17 years, remarked that sexual minorities are not yet visible at Japanese universities. He stressed the importance of ensuring that sexual minorities become visible in Japanese society so that people around them know of their close proximity, and see how they are involved in important work on their own discretion and initiative. He argued that geographical regions, companies, schools and families should create spaces where everyone can live freely and develop their potential to the full. We should also create a society where members of the LGBT community can ensure that those around them understand that their sexuality is part of who they are, and feel easy about communicating this fact. He stressed that both initiatives be bidirectional.

Professor Campbell explained the real situation for sexual minorities in Japan using the results of a questionnaire survey of LGBT community members conducted by Japan Broadcasting Corporation in 2015. In answer to the question "Do you want to apply for a Marriage Equivalent Certificate?" 38.8% replied yes, and 43.6% said they would once they found a partner. Many others commented on work and economic factors, including eligibility to receive the same medical care and workplace welfare as those available to non LGBT families. Members of the LGBT community expressed anxiety and dissatisfaction about their current situation. When asked "What do you think about same-sex marriage?" 65.4% replied that they wished it was officially recognized. Many emphasized that they wanted it to be accepted as a right based on social equality.

Professor Campbell went on to discuss the results of the APAC Labor Market Status Survey (2019) published by the Persol Research Institute in August, and explained the situation in workplaces in Japan. He noted that the percentage of workers wanting to take managerial positions or start new companies was lower in Japan than in any of the other 14 APAC countries/regions, especially among younger workers. He surmised that when they look at their older colleagues, they feel they should adapt themselves to the corporate culture, and express their opinions accordingly. An extremely small percentage of people in Japan expressed no resistance to working under a female or younger boss, or working together with foreigners, demonstrating their low receptivity towards diversity. Noting the very strong relationship between sexuality and career choices, he stressed the need to create an environment where LGBT community members would find it easy to come out, while non-LGBT employees would be more willing to accept that LGBT colleagues were close by.

Until recently, Professor Campbell had not publicly revealed that he himself is gay, although he may have mentioned it in one-on-one conversations with the students and teaching staff he counsels at university. However, when a member of the Japanese House of Representatives wrote in a magazine article in August that LGBT couples are "unproductive," he rebutted this argument in his blog and took the opportunity to come out as gay. Since then, he said, there had been a huge response from many young people, including students that he does not teach directly, people he meets on the subway, and followers on SNS. Although sexual minorities in Japan are seldom subject to the kind of violent discrimination sometimes seen in the United States, for example, they face invisible pressures that discourage them from coming out. He pointed out how important it is to be aware of the close proximity of LGBT community members, and the need to create spaces where it is easy to speak about them. Today, he said, this sort of environment was still lacking in Japan.

He concluded by introducing some of the writings he had submitted to his blog and elsewhere. While a very large number of Japanese responded to the questionnaire that there are "no members of the LGBT in my vicinity," he said this was not because such people do not exist. Instead, it was due to the fact that Japanese society is structured in such a way that people are constrained from freely admitting they are around. He finished his presentation by expressing his wish that Japan become a strong society where various freedoms and respect for diversity are well-established. Japan now has an opportunity to do this.

Panel Discussion among Representatives of Universities and Companies

The second part of the event was a panel discussion between people associated with UDA and companies. In the opening remarks, the moderator, Assistant Professor Hiroto Doi of the University of Tsukuba explained the discussion's objectives. Touching on the fact that some people come out when they are at university, only to go back into the closet when they start work, the moderator said the theme of the discussion would be the creation of safe spaces at universities and companies.

Following self-introductions, the presenters from the student side and the business side introduced the issues they face. From the student side, Yuma Sato said the results of a survey of the LGBT community conducted by the University of Tokyo Graduate School showed that the university was not functioning as a safe space. He said the problem arose for LGBT students when they live separated lives such as the daily lives of non-LGBT members and the circle/club activities of LGBT members. As a consequence, they lose safe space after graduation.

Yoshiyuki Kawano, who handles consultations with students at the University of Tsukuba,noted that many students are troubled about coming out when they go through the job-seeking process. Although the initiatives adopted by companies are visible, the faces of individual LGBT members are not, resulting in insufficient communications between universities and companies.

Mio Yoshimura of freee K.K. presented the problems seen from the company side. She explained that while LGBT members' faces are naturally not visible,companies cannot actually ask them to volunteer such information.

Kenichi Mochiduki, Head of the Corporate Human Resources Division at Sony Corporation, mentioned how he visited a university together with an LGBT staffer last fall to provide a realistic explanation of how Sony's scheme is used, the lives of working LGBT adults and their career-building activities. He said he hoped to eliminate students' anxieties and create points of contact between universities and companies.

Zen, a graduate student at Bukkyo University participated in the discussion remotely. Speaking about communications between high schools and universities, he believed it should be possible to connect separate points of contact when realistic role models exist at each individual stage.

Mochiduki of Sony also said he was aware that some people have no interest in the LGBT community. Ms. Yoshimura introduced actual activities at her company, freee K.K., that do not treat people from the LGBT community in any special way. Her company tells all its employees that everyone belongs to a minority of some kind. Since the LGBT community is just one of these minorities, there is no need to make an issue out of them alone. For Zen, the problem was that even though a certain number of members of sexual minorities actually exist, people around them are not aware of them because they are not visible. He urged everyone to abandon the idea that they should be treated in some special way. We must start by striving to understand those around us.

In light of the discussion so far, the panelists spoke about the future beyond the solution of the LGBT issue. Some were of the opinion that compulsory lessons on diversity and sex at universities would improve understanding of members of the LGBT community as well as academic performance. Others believed that both universities and companies would benefit if they become locations where LGBT members can deliver their best efforts. Conversely, others said it was necessary to create places where they can be at ease without having to strive to demonstrate their abilities. Still others thought that once LGBT members are accepted as a matter of course, there would be no need for diversity training. In closing the discussion, moderator Hiroto Doi said that for universities and companies to cooperate in moving LGBT-related initiatives forward, it was first essential to grasp the current situation, then begin a dialog with people near us.

Panelists

  • Yoshiyuki Kawano,
    University of Tsukuba
  • Yuma Sato,
    The University of Tokyo
  • Mio Yoshimura,
    freee k.k.
  • Kenichi Mochiduki,
    Sony Corporation
  • ZEN,
    Bukkyo University
  • Hiroto Doi,
    University of Tsukuba (Moderator)

Pride House Tokyo

Pride House Tokyo is a cross-sector collaboration involving many organizations, individuals and companies to leverage the momentum ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympic and Paralympic games by providing information on LGBT and other sexual minorities. It sets up pop-up hospitality centers and aims to provide a variety of events and content concerning diversity. Sony is a participant in the pride House Tokyo 2019 team to create safe locations for LGBT people to gather, cosponsoring the event with UDA.

University Diversity Alliance (UDA)

The University Diversity Alliance (UDA) is a network that aims to support LGBT and other sexual minority students in Japan by ensuring that universities and other institutions of higher education become spaces where all students, and faculty and administrative staff can express their individual talents. Cooperation between volunteers from the University of Tsukuba and other universities involved in SOGI/LGBT+ related activities began in 2018, and the organization was formally inaugurated in June 2019. For the future, its aims to establish and expand networks through communications with a wide range of universities, companies, organizations and individuals.

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