At the ITOCHU ENEX Group, we believe it is important to respect the diversity and values of employees and to harness them as our strengths. Based on this belief, we open positions to diverse human resources and provide them with opportunities to demonstrate their capabilities.
Motoyo Yamane, an Outside Director, Masako Iwamoto, an Outside Audit & Supervisory Board Member, and Yasue Abe, the General Manager of Human Resources & General Affairs Department, had a special talk about what will be necessary for the ITOCHU ENEX Group to continue advancing diversity initiatives.
Abe： Since its foundation, our Company has regarded people as its most important asset and considered them the driving force of sustainable growth and improvement of our enterprise value. Let us hear your
impressions of the Group from the perspective of diversity.
Yamane: We have a free culture, very different from some other companies where formality is very important. If we talk about empowerment of women, the percentage of female employees gradually increased from 10% in 2013 to 20% in 2019.
Iwamoto: That’s right. Our Board of Directors meetings have a welcoming atmosphere and the members are keen to listen to me. Female employees are active at many locations throughout Japan, and at the recent General Meeting of Shareholders, Abe-san was in charge
of running everything in her role as the General Manager of HR. I feel the company empowers all talented people, regardless of gender or age.
Yamane: Considerable time has passed since Japanese society started calling for women’s active involvement in businesses. Whether women can fulfill their potential or not has become one of the important points for evaluating a company’s reliability today.
Abe: Cooperation from people around me has made my progress possible. For a woman to continue to work through her life events, we need cooperations from the state, from the company, and from family. Today, the national government devises various policies, and since 2013 the Group has been implementing all sorts of measures, including HR system reforms designed to promote diversity. I hear Yamane-san took some decisive actions on empowering women when she worked for Japan Broadcasting Corporation.
Yamane: Up until around the time I was appointed head of the Announcers Bureau, female announcers almost never received job transfers, even though some male announcers were relocated as many as ten times during their career. Though at first glance it seemed like women were being given favorable treatment, we could say they were deprived of the learning opportunities that come with assignments to stations in other regions, such as learning about local life, the way broadcasting is done, how to cover stories, and program production. So,I developed a system where female announcers could be transferred when the timing was right, based on adequate iscussion with them and with consideration to marriage, childbirth, parenting, and other life stages. Many of the women who took transfers showed incredible personal growth, including ones who were initially unhappy about the assignment but ultimately became attached to their new locations.
Abe: I feel that our Group, too,has few women in positions where they work all around the country. I suppose that this is because we did not actively recruit women in the past,and because some managers have been reluctant to relocate women out of kindness. Yamane: Kindness, yes, but the wrong kind. But I’d like for them to
give women opportunities to challenge themselves. Our Group’s new initiative “Challenge Promotion Program for Young People” is a good one. It’s great that young employees can take on responsible managerial positions that allow them to gain experience early in their careers. One
valuable point is that the employee can start afresh if he or she should fail in the challenge.
Abe: That program is just one of the ways that our Company has really made progress in the past several years with developing a culture that enables employees to challenge themselves from a young age. The other day, when we made a visit to a customer, our team consisted of women only and the customer’s team was all men. It was something unthinkable a few years ago, and we want to keep accelerating this trend.
Iwamoto: Abe-san, you had various experiences before you took up your current position, didn’t you?
Abe: My experience has also been quite different from the career plan I had originally in mind. I left the Company once when my husband was transferred overseas. At first, I had no intention of going with him, and instead decided to stay in Japan and continue working while looking after our two children, who were ages one and three at the time. But, it was really hard to balance work with parenting whenever one of them had temperature or became ill. So, I proposed a plan, something I wished I had had: a reemployment program for employees who left the Company due to their spouse’s transfer. Several female
employees have already used this program. Depending on your life stage, your priorities change. In my case, now that our children have grown up, I feel motivated to start afresh.
Iwamoto: I agree. It is really difficult to work while rearing children without a supporting system, and it’s meaningless to have a bunch of wonderful ideals if they don’t get materialized. So, corporate environment where both men and women can unabashedly say they’re taking childcare leave needs to be
paired with functioning systems that support them.
Abe: The Group has been working on various reforms of the human resources system, but there are still issues about working from home, a workstyle getting more important as a response to COVID-19.
Yamane: The spread of COVID-19 made working from home possible and some companies have decided to make remote work their main working style. But do all employees want to do this? Or, do they think there are things only possible through face-to-face contact with people? We must keep thinking about new working styles that suit the times.
Iwamoto: I have been working flexibly as a self-employed lawyer. I can work relatively freely, but, on the other hand, when something happens, there is nobody to cover for me. When my child was small and got sick when I was in the middle of a big job, I had to ask people like my parents out in the country, my sister, or my sister-in-law to take care of the child. It was like walking a tightrope every day. I think it might have been a lot easier if I could have worked from home then, but is it really easy to work from home now that the remote working style has become widespread? Is it that simple to work at home while looking after a child? To be honest, you probably have to give your child games to play, and prepare TV and videos programs to watch, just so that you can get work done while the child is occupied. We cannot say remote work is better in all aspects.
Yamane: You have to ask yourself what is the best way to work for you now, and how can you contribute to the organization in your current situation? You need to design your work style with consideration to how it serves your current stage of life.
Abe: In our Group, more male employees now use childcare leave, and some use a long-term one. But we wonder if it is possible for smallunits, like one with only three employees. I think we should review our ways of working company-wide, so that experienced employees can help fill in, for instance.
Iwamoto: Also naturally, it should be discussed if it is OK to leave senior employees behind when younger employees are promoted. It is important to develop a good structure where experienced senior employees who have contributed to the Group for a long time can continue to work even longer.
Abe: At present, a certain number of Group employees are using the reemployment system after retirement.We hope having experienced and young employees working together will result in them inspiring one another and thus increase everyone’s motivation. We are actively exploring how to craft a good system where experienced employees can work longer and continue to find satisfaction in their jobs.
Yamane: Not just for the reemployment system, but as a whole, it is very important to think and cooperate cross-functionally to make sure that the support systems and programs created reach every corner our Group. The environment surrounding our Group is changing in a big way, and the whole Group needs to change, including its systems and programs, in order for us to maintain sustainable growth. It is not necessarily good to introduce the same schemes to all Group companies, because each may have its own issues to contend with, so we need to understand the specific issues faced at each company and study ways to solve them.
Iwamoto: I was appointed as an auditor following Yamane-san’s appointment, which might be a signal of the Group’s determination to change. But until female executives are appointed from within the Company,real diversity cannot be achieved. And, of course, fostering global human resources is another challenge.
Abe: We have an overseas training program for fostering global human resources. We dispatch six or seven employees every two years to different countries to develop them into global talent through training in an overseas company of the ITOCHU Corporation Group, sometimes in areas outside our existing
businesses. In recent years, we are actively entering businesses overseas, offering opportunities to local employees, and there are the Group employees working at overseas subsidiaries. In Japan, we promote recruitment and appointment of non-Japanese employees. For example, we have Filipino and Indonesian employees working at our Group companies. Of course, when we recruit graduate and mid-career candidates, we seek out, regardless of nationality or gender, people who have exceptional talent and show that they can put their skills to use at our Group.
Yamane: At the ITOCHU ENEX Group Award Ceremony the other day, I felt a strong sense of mission in the awardees, young and old, men and women. I was particularly struck by a speech in which the awardee talked about the satisfaction they felt in working for our Group because they can do something that benefits society and customers.
Iwamoto: Work styles are changing in many directions, but still working hours occupy a large percentage of your day as a working person. For most people, as long as you’re going to work, you’ll want to have a satisfying time of it by contributing to the company and society, and by maximizing your skills.
Abe: As a company, we have established an environment conducive to “comfortable working,”and now, at last, we can think of stepping up to the next stage of being a company that offers “satisfying work.” All evaluation systems and programs, and all working environments are linked to job satisfaction. As the person in charge of HR, it is my endless quest to develop our Company into one where everyone can find satisfaction in their jobs.
Yamane: Nobody can have a sense of mission or satisfaction because he or she is told to have one. When you closely see people’s lives through your work, you realize what you can do there and what significance the Company has for society. And then, you seriously feel you want to be of use to people’s lives; you want to help make a better society. An organization made up with such individuals becomes stronger. That is why providing various opportunities for gaining experience means developing people.
Abe: Could you wrap up our talk with a message for our investors and other stakeholders?
Iwamoto: As an outside audit & supervisory board member, I am committed to properly monitoringdirectors’ business execution in order to ensure the Group’s sustainable growth. From the viewpoint of my new role, I can see that so many employees, regardless of their gender, age, or experience, are energetically working. To make sure our human resources, so important to our Group’s sustainable growth, can work even more actively, I would like to propose solutions that can inspire new ways of thinking for the Group, based on my own perceptions and experiences gained through my career.
Yamane: As a leading energy trading company, the Group needs to anticipate how the future will unfold and prepare to flexibly and quickly respond to changes in the times and external environment. I would like to utilize my advisory function as an outside director to lead the Group in a more appropriate direction. I ask all stakeholders to keep supporting us, trusting our Group employees who can discuss freely, take on challenges, and think and act on their own.