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Diversity-Driven Innovation: 2016 Women's Leadership Counts Conference

Toby Mallen

At the 2016 Women's Leadership Counts Conference, participants get inspiration from women who championed innovative ideas and actions to achieve career success and deliver results to their organization. 

Diversity is one of the biggest business buzzwords today, and many see the attention it’s getting is timely and necessary. With serious shifts rocking the global workplace – from the rise of the multi-generational workforce to the gender leadership gap – an organization’s survival relies on its ability to bring together various and sometimes differing perspectives into the table for innovation to bloom.   

The 3rd Annual Women's Leadership Counts Conference held at InterContinental Hotel, in Los Angeles, California last November was designed to address these very intersections of diversity, leadership and innovation through real-life inspirations. With the theme “Diversity Inspires Innovation: Entrepreneurial and Intrapreneurial Leadership,” the event brought together leading female entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs in Japan and the U.S. to share their stories on how they elevated their leadership amidst (or perhaps due to) various challenges.

Organized by the Japan America Society of Southern California, the conference was created to “provide a platform for businesswomen to engage in professional and leadership development” and to “inspire businesses to include more women in the workplace.” This year’s event offered four main opportunities to attendees: 1) learn from global leaders, 2) discover your potential, 3) invest in yourself and 4) build your professional network. 

Consul General of Japan Akira Chiba opened the conference by noting that Japan wishes to engage more women in the workplace, as seen in Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s “Abenomics” and its vital component “Womenomics,” which aims to help more women join the workforce and reduce the disparity in pay between men and women. The Consul General said the current male-centric approach in the workplace needs to be changed, while emphasizing the importance of fighting for women’s equality as well as gender equality.  

The following are the most notable takeaways from the conference:

A woman’s outlook benefits the organization.

Consul General Chiba believes that men and women have different mindsets and that this difference can benefit companies with women in the workforce. He suggested that workers be viewed based on their abilities and not their gender. The Consul also highlighted the need to create an environment where women can shine and to encourage more opportunities for women in the workplace, especially in the fields of science and engineering.

Kaori Sasaki, founder & CEO of ewoman, Inc., similarly believes that gender diversity breeds innovation and drives company profitability. The recognized expert on women’s issues shared that Japan, albeit slowly, is finally starting to be more inclusive toward women in the workplace. She asked for support on Japan’s efforts to promote diversity, asking the audience to send the government and corporations gai-atsu外圧, or pressure from the outside to drive change.

Meanwhile, Michiko Achilles, who has the distinction of having been the first female officer at Aozora Bank, is currently the managing corporate officer, vice president and head of human resources at SAP Japan. Based on her experience on juggling motherhood and climbing the corporate ladder, she shared the following tip for aspiring intrepreneurial leaders:

  1. See opportunities that others don’t see
  2. Have a sense of purpose with a passion
  3. Challenge common sense in organizations
  4. Be highly motivated to make a difference
  5. Experiment and learn from results
  6. Involve and inspire others
  7. Leverage diversity for innovation

    Don’t be afraid to create your “wows.”

    The power of women in business was underscored by panelists Ellen Chen, co-founder and president of Mendocino Farms and Kelly Keenan Trumpbour, founder of Founder of See Jane Invest. For these vastly influential women, innovation is key to making an impact.

    For instance, Chen came up with “wow” experiences for each point of contact in her restaurant in order to build relationships with the customers. Meanwhile, Trumpbour, an advocate of female business founders, called for women to communicate their worth and to ask for what they want – a case of creating a wow by building a more assertive presence. She also advised women to own their ideas and brand it, put their mark on it and bring it to the attention of people can make it grow.

    Leadership is an exhilarating journey.

    In closing, Hiroko Tatabe, founder and executive director of Global Organization for Leadership and Diversity (GOLD), noted that leadership is a journey which is constantly evolving. We should all look forward to continuing this journey.




    Atty. Toby Mallen is a graduate of the University of California Berkeley and University of Southern California Law School. She has assisted companies doing business in California for more than 20 years. Often acting in the general counsel capacity, Ms. Mallen has helped employers avoid or minimize liability for employment-related claims. With an ability to speak Japanese, Ms. Mallen also advises Japanese companies hoping to do business in the United States.


    Diversity-Driven Innovation: 2016 Women's Leadership Counts Conference

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