Miyuki Hirose, our representative and WECconect International Japan Market Lead, was featured in the Kobe Newspaper on 12 November 2023.
WEConnect International Japan advocates and promotes“Supplier Diversity”in Japan.
Currently, we are expanding our activities mainly to women-owned businesses.
She will continue to work energetically as Japan Market Lead.
Every time a disaster or conflict occurs, the supply chain of materials and products is broken, damaging the economy. For example, passenger cars cannot be built due to a shortage of parts, or products cannot be transported due to a shortage of drivers. Procurement is the heart of economic activity. There is a growing movement overseas to incorporate the perspectives of minorities in procurement. WE Connect INTERNATIONAL, a non-governmental organization (NGO) based in the U.S., advocates "supplier diversity" to diversify procurement sources while increasing transactions with companies run by women. How are Japanese companies responding? We asked Miyuki Hirose, 53, the representative of the Japan Branch.
Supplier Diversity. It is an activity that you may not be familiar with.
First of all, the basic idea is to evolve our business by having a variety of suppliers. In addition, there has long been a trend in U.S. society, which values diversity, to do business with a certain percentage of women, people with disabilities, and sexual minorities. The goal is not to trade because we feel sorry for them, but to grow the economy through diversity. Our organization was born in the U.S. in 2008 in an effort to expand trading globally with a special focus on women business owners in that context."
How can we help?
The condition is that the business must be majority-owned by women, and to date we have certified more than 17,000 companies worldwide. In Japan, the number of certified companies is only 42 since the Japan Chapter was established only five years ago, but about 15 transactions have been concluded, including the production of commemorative gifts to be distributed to clients. On the order side, 187 of the world's largest companies, including P&G (household goods) and Johnson & Johnson (pharmaceuticals), have placed orders with us. In Japan, in addition to these Japanese corporations, 10 companies are actively involved, including Takeda Pharmaceutical Company Limited."
You are a business owner yourself.
I work with professional athletes who come to Japan to assist them in their daily lives. Many of them are rugby players. After graduating from junior college, I continued to learn English on my own while working for a company in Kobe, and started my own business in 2017. Although the company's business and We Connect's activities are not directly linked, I have been serving as the second Japanese representative since May 2010, partly because I am used to dealing with people from overseas. My mission is to connect global companies with women business owners. Having gone through the pain of entrepreneurship myself, I hope my past experience will prove useful."
This is still a new initiative.
I am not sure if our ideas and activities will be accepted in conservative Japan. We are grateful that foreign companies are willing to buy from women business owners, but the reality is that we cannot immediately start doing business with them. Many of the companies we support are small in size, and it takes time for them to establish internal regulations (required for transactions with large companies).
Another challenge is the lack of stable supply. For example, it is difficult to be asked to deliver 1 million units of products per year with the same order unit as a large company. Since we are a small to medium-sized company, the hurdles to start doing business with us seem high, but even so, as we solve them one by one, the company gains strength. I call on them to challenge and overcome together and spread the concept of 'supplier diversity' in Japan."
There is a movement for Japanese companies to participate on the ordering side, though.
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have become widely known, and there is growing momentum to respect the idea of valuing diversity. We would like to increase the number of Japanese companies that agree with and support these efforts, especially since large corporations are expected to take this approach. In fact, inquiries have been increasing, and I have visited several times to explain the concept, but in each case, the response was, "We will consider it internally. From the perspective of those who place orders, this may not be a profitable business proposition. I feel that they are moving a bit slowly, but there are many wonderful companies in Japan. That is why I feel a sense of crisis that we will be left behind if we don't take this more seriously.
A sense of urgency, is it?
I have a similar sense of urgency that I feel about languages. My English is not that good, but I talk with many people from overseas in online conferences. There are quite a few people overseas who are not very good at English, but many of them try to manage, although not perfectly, by watching the other person's facial expressions and making guesses. They try to get out in front of others, even if they are speaking in their own language. Japanese people are always a bit hesitant, but I would like them to separate it as a means of communication and get out in front of it. If this continues, we will always have a wall between us and the rest of the world."
The government has set a goal of increasing the percentage of female executives at major listed companies to at least 30% by 2030. In the Diet, there is also discussion of a quota system that allocates a certain number of seats to female Diet members.
I think it is necessary. However, I feel that it is still only a formality at the moment. Are women corporate executives involved in the real root of decision-making? As a minority opinion, it is meaningless if it is not reflected in corporate management. We support women executives. They may only have four or five to several dozen employees, but they are able to make decisions and reflect their ideas in hiring and contributions to society. The more of them we have, the greater the impact on the economy."
So how are the men's reactions?
When I say "women, women," some men feel that women are again being ghettoized (privileged). I don't think that I want women to be elevated in status. It is because of the involvement of diverse people that new products are created and technological innovations are made. In Japanese organizations, where the conventional way of doing things and the opinions of those around you are valued, people who do innovative things tend to be excluded, but society is better when it reflects the opinions of many different people. Female executives are more likely to have a direct impact on social change than female executives in large corporations. It is my hope that our society will become one where diversity is accepted as the norm."