With the Ultimate Goal of Evolving into a Diversity-conscious Corporation,
We Are Promoting Workplaces Where Women Can Actively Participate
Diversity, which is intended to revitalize a corporation through the fusion of personnel with varying talents and values, has come to be positioned as a major management strategy.
Since 2013, NGK SPARK PLUG CO., LTD. has been pushing ahead with a workplace improvement program that will enable women to play a more active role throughout the company as the first step towards diversity management. We named this initiative the "DIAMOND Project," and, in 2015, stimulated by this project, all of us and not just women employees got down to the task of "work style reform" to review work-life-balance.
Activities in this reform program are intended to create a corporate environment where anyone can work energetically and vigorously.
We Are Promoting the Active Participation of Women as One of Our Management Strategies
The meaning of the word "diversity" itself is, well, diverse and covers a broad range of definitions – differences in appearance such as age, gender, nationality and physical abilities or disabilities, and other dissimilarities such as values, social background, work values, way of life, and character.
Otsuka says that "The project’s goal is to create a workplace within the company, a gathering point of various people, where each of us can be active while mutually accepting each others’ differences. Since the project began with the spotlight on women, its initial aim was to promote women’s active participation." Otsuka is one of the main members of this project and has been active since its launch.
It was the decision of top management that provided strong support for this initiative.
In July, 2011, Shinichi Odo who has extensive experience overseas in Germany, Australia and the United States was appointed President & CEO. As the head of the company, he felt a sense of danger in a work environment where opportunities for women to be active were limited, and adopted promotion of active participation of women in the company as a top priority of business management. With men accounting for 85% of company employees and women accounting for only 15% at the time, further participation by women was greatly anticipated.
In June 2013, the "DIAMOND Project" was launched with the Vice President as project owner. Thus began the initiative to promote greater participation by women in the company.
Looking back at the foundation year of the project, Otsuka tells us that "Initiatives intended for women’s participation had already been made before then. However, they were propelled forward even more and were more fulfilling in terms of content because the project was positioned as part of management strategy and it was carried out with the backing of top management."
What was the wish behind the project’s name "DIAMOND?"
Naturally, the name reflects high value as found in diamonds and hinted at radiance in women. It also symbolizes the desire to develop human resources in various ways since diamonds shine out when ground and polished and how they sparkle depends on how they are cut and finished.
Diamonds can also have varying utility value not just as a precious stone but also in use in industrial applications. All this is condensed in the slogan "Diversification Initiatives Accommodate More Opportunities and New Dimensions, and its abbreviation is DIAMOND."
In Redefining the Mindset of Male-dominated Management, Women Also Set About Their Work With High Ambitions
The basic principles of the "DIAMOND Project" are "changing the corporate culture," "changing the consciousness," and "changing the environment."
"Changing the corporate culture" refers to the elimination of customary distinctions such as ‘men’s work’ and ‘women’s work’ to create a fair organization. This not only establishes an organizational framework for supporting the active participation of women in the workplace but also creates a fertile foundation for results-oriented human resource management that takes work-life-balance into consideration.
Furthermore, this changes male workers’ attitude towards female workers, and provides support for women workers so that they can be aware of their correct work responsibilities and change how they conduct themselves. Making each individual worker accountable for their actions leads to "changing the consciousness" which, in turn, stimulates and lifts their motivation.
Lastly, regarding "changing the environment," we have prepared work manuals and other documents to ensure that work proceeds smoothly even if staff fluctuates or is reassigned due to maternity leave or child care leave. We shall also be introducing universal design into in-house facilities, as well.
The first task that Otsuka and her team dealt with was a questionnaire survey to identify issues. This survey brought the fundamental need to change the way of thinking of men, who accounted for the majority of management, into sharp relief.
"At the outset, there was a difference in the degree of interest within the company about why it was necessary to make use of women’s abilities. These days, however, overall understanding has progressed, more bosses support the "DIAMOND Project," and more people consider women’s participation in a positive light as if it’s also their own personal matter. For these and other reasons, I now feel that our company’s mindset has changed."
The next task was to execute plans for supporting the activities of female workers. Otsuka gives actual examples, "We held the ‘Forum for Female Employees’ and ‘Career Advancement Support Program,’ and also conducted individual interviews.
In April 2014, we also introduced a new personnel management system where they can choose regionally-limited occupational type as women-friendly working environment.
Otsuka adds, "I think the fact that the number of women who have opted for positions with better opportunities has resulted in improved motivation towards their work."
Women Are Rising Up Through the Ranks Bolstered by Higher Confidence
In FY2014, moreover, we held lecture meetings for all senior managerial employees as we did the previous year, and formed and implemented action plans in each of the company departments. At the same time, we developed programs for training next-generation leaders and career training for those returning to their former positions. In addition to these, in FY2015, we held a "Forum for Female Employees."
The new initiative that we launched in 2014 was "model departments promoting active participation of women." A model production department is the Plug Production Dept. at the Komaki Plant that manufactures major products, and a model administrative department is the Procurement Dept. Initiatives are being promoted at both of these departments.
"Because there are few women at production sites, it was hard for women to come out with improvement plans if they had any. In response to this, we conducted ‘Site Improvement Workshops,’ for example, to further understanding and called these 2-year training programs ‘Training for Next Generation Female Leaders’ where female employees could take their time in building up their self-confidence."
We intend to apply lessons learned here to workplaces in other departments.
In the third year of the launch of the "DIAMOND Project" initiative, the number of women managers, four as of the end of March 2014, had doubled to eight by April 2015.
Yet, as Otsuka says, "We weren’t chasing numerical targets." We asked the project owner, not to judge the outcome of the initiative by numbers alone. I believe that for each person to acquire skills and abilities, set about their work steadily and with confidence, and build their own career plan is a blessing for the person in question, those around her and for the company, alike.
Efforts made in the "DIAMOND Project" initiative led to the company being awarded the "Nagoya City Accreditation and Commendation System for Companies that Promote Increased Roles for Women 2014, Excellence Award" and the "Japan Productivity Center, Working Woman Power-up Award 2015, Encouraging Prize." As a result of this, the "DIAMOND Project" initiative came to be widely known outside of the company, too. However, winning prizes is not the goal.
Otsuka adds, "The effect of an increasing number of women wanting to improve themselves, be active and derive greater satisfaction from their work has resulted in my feeling a greater sense of worth in myself, also."
From here on, she says she also plans to encourage employees who do not expect change. Change may come suddenly if there are more women around you who would be role models.
We Are Tackling Work Style Reform to Ensure the Happiness of All Employees in Their Careers
"Work style reform," the company-wide expanded version of the "DIAMOND Project," also is actively being pursued.
Otsuka says, "In November 2014, the Human Resources Dept. and the labor union joined forces and launched the Working Committee which accelerated this initiative. It was examined as a subject of discussion in the labor-management council from the standpoint of work-life-balance, and, as a result, started to progress forward in July, 2015."
For example, in order to make thoroughly sure that employees leave work on time as part of efforts to reduce overtime, the Human Resources Dept. conducts a tour inside the company and urges any personnel still working to return home. They have also changed the final departure time of the commuter bus service. Efforts such as this have helped shorten long working hours and reduce late-night overtime.
Currently, the percentage of women taking maternity leave is 100%. The number of men opting for paternity leave also is on the increase. Otsuka, a mother of two, built her career by starting out in the semiconductor development department and then moving on to Human Resources.
She adds, "I love my work. I work and enjoy it at the same time. So, my goal is to create a work environment at the company where every one, both men and women alike, can enjoy working and look forward to going to the company."
If employees notice that the company is changing and evolving and they change themselves, this will surely lead to their happiness. Otsuka and her team will continue to move forward.