Updated: Jun 25
Yesterday, Softbank here in Japan announced its new goal of achieving a level of 20% female managers by 2035, which is a relatively large increase (282% to be exact) from its current level of 7.1% (a rough translation of this announcement can be found at the bottom of this post).
After reading this release but not reading any further here, please answer this question: Is Softbank taking appropriate steps to address gender equality issues?
Do you have your answer written? Ok, let's dig in a little deeper.
This announcement sounds fantastic and perfectly aligned with Sustainability Goal #5, Gender Equality from the United Nations Sustainability Development Goals. In fact, reading their press release, this sounds like clear celebration of this new goal and the newly created "Committee for the Promotion of Women's Participation and Advancement in the Workplace".
I don't mean to pick on Softbank (although for full disclosure I was once a customer), as I could have used any number of similar announcements from different companies not only in Japan but globally as an example. But let's take a step back and look at this announcement through a different set of lenses, specifically our recently announced value assessment framework.
Of the 80 goals that we've synthesized from the world's top ESG and sustainability reporting frameworks, Softbank's announcement clearly aligns with our Goal #15, which states that “The gender balance of the workforce and senior leadership team matches 100% with the surrounding population."
Looking at Japan's overall population, as of June 2021, a little more than 51% is female and 49% is male. Based on our Goal #15, this means that for a company in Japan to get a perfect score through our assessment framework, both its workforce and its management must have this same 51% / 49% gender ratio.
If we use this as our benchmark for assessing Softbank's announcement, then they would currently receive a score of 14 out of 100 points (an “F”) for their current ratio of 7.1%/92.9%. Unfortunately, while they definitely should get credit for improving upon this number, their goal to achieve a 20% / 80% gender ratio in its management ranks 14 years from now actually means that they are aiming at a score of 39 out of 100 points (also a failing “F” grade) in 2035.
Coming back to Sustainable Development Goal #5, target 5.1 states that we must "end all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere". Softbank's goal seems like a feeble attempt in the right direction, but an outright failure in terms of achieving either our 15th goal or this target set by the United Nations.
Now let me ask you the same exact question I asked at the start of this post:
Is Softbank taking appropriate steps to address gender equality issues?
My good friend Lars shared this article about how ESG measures are "junk science," and announcements like this from Softbank (and others that you've surely read recently) seem to provide further damning evidence that this is the sad reality that we are currently living in.
This is why it's critical to have context for every single ESG or sustainability-related announcement that companies make. Without clear goals, objective measures for them that are transparently reported on and confirmed by independent outside 3rd parties, we run the serious risk of never achieving anything other than great sustainability branding for the companies that make such announcements.
We've done our best to provide the first draft of this in our recent research report, but are hoping to collaborate with you or other organizations globally who take the current failures of ESG and sustainability reporting seriously and are taking clear actions to fix this.
I'm looking forward to your comments, and also would love to hear examples of other company announcements that sound great when you first read them, but then fail miserably when put in context of one or more of our 80 goals.
Rough translation of their June 22, 2021 official press announcement in Japanese on their website HERE:
Increase the proportion of women in managerial positions to 20% by FY 2035
To achieve the goal of approximately 3 times the fiscal 2021 level,
Established the "Committee for the Promotion of Women's Participation and Advancement in the
Workplace" consisting of directors and outside experts
June 22, 2021
SOFTBANK CORPORATION ("SOFTBANK") has set a target of increasing the ratio of women in managerial positions ("ratio of women in managerial positions") from 7.1% in fiscal 2021 to 15% by fiscal 2030 and to 20% by fiscal 2035. To achieve this target, on July 1, 2021, it will launch the "Promotion Committee for Women's Empowerment" consisting of executives and outside experts. As of April 2021, approximately 26.9% of all SoftBank employees were women.
SOFTBANK believes that the active participation of a diverse range of talented human resources will be the driving force for further business growth. Accordingly, SOFTBANK has positioned the promotion of diversity as an important management issue, and will further promote the active participation of women as part of its initiatives. The Committee for the Promotion of Women's Participation and Advancement, chaired by the president, is headed by an executive who oversees each organization. The Committee discusses policies and new measures for the promotion and enhancement of women's participation and advancement of each measure. In order to promote active discussions from a variety of perspectives, Mr. Naomi Koshi, who is scheduled to become an Outside Director of SoftBank on June 22, and other outside experts will participate as advisors. In addition, divisional managers of each organization appointed by the promotion committee members of the Women's Empowerment Promotion Committee hold meetings to share information on departmental initiatives, their progress, and successful cases, and promote company-wide initiatives.
SOFTBANK has introduced a "Mission Grade System" under which employees are ranked according to their duties, abilities, and achievements. In addition, to promote diversity, SOFTBANK has established a "Diversity Week" which includes various in-house seminars to promote understanding of LGBTQ (sexual minorities), employees with disabilities, and multiculturalism. In this way, SOFTBANK is working to create an environment in which talented human resources can play an active role regardless of gender, age, nationality, or disability. As part of our efforts to promote the advancement of women in the workplace, we hold workshops on careers for female employees, a mentor program in which female managers and prospective employees can receive advice on work and careers from role models such as female managers, a workshop on diversity management * for all managers, and e-learning on unconscious bias for all employees. In addition, with the aim of enabling female employees to give birth with peace of mind and to be able to balance work and family, we have made it possible for them to take childcare leave exceeding the period stipulated by laws and regulations and to work shorter hours. More than 98% of female employees return to work after taking childcare leave.
In the future, we will further expand these initiatives and promote the introduction of new measures based on discussions at the Women's Empowerment Promotion Committee. SOFTBANK aims to achieve further growth in the Group's business by creating an environment in which a diverse range of talented human resources can play an active role and building an organization filled with dynamism and vitality.
*By flexibly accepting the diversity of employees and providing opportunities for diverse human resources to demonstrate their abilities, we aim to strengthen our organizational capabilities.
Major Initiatives to Promote Women's Participation and Advancement (Both started in FY 2018)
Career workshops for female employees
We hold workshops for female employees in order to think about their future careers and necessary skills through the inventory of their own skills and careers, and talk sessions with senior female employees about their careers, as well as to provide opportunities for them to pursue managerial positions and to increase their motivation and confidence.
Mentor programs based on role models such as female managers
We have introduced a mentor program that allows female managers and their candidates to receive advice on their work and careers from role models, such as female managers, in order to dispel their worries and anxieties about working in managerial positions and to increase their self-confidence. Mentoring managers receive specialized training from outside experts to provide appropriate advice.
Workshop for all managers on diversity management
We hold workshops for all managers to learn about diversity management, which aims to enhance organizational capabilities by leveraging the diversity of employees. The workshop consists of lectures and role plays designed to communicate with subordinates with diverse personalities.
e-learning for all employees on unconscious bias
We conduct an e-learning program on unconsciousness bias for all employees with the aim of raising awareness of the possibility that consideration and assumptions about women may affect assignments to various projects and higher positions.