Creating LGBT-friendly work environments

October 11th is International Coming Out Day, a time to raise awareness of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer culture. In Japan, coming out can still have negative consequences, especially in the workplace. But some groups are working hard to change that.

Working with pride

The Work With Pride event drew more than 400 people.

In Tokyo, more than 400 people marked International Coming Out day by joining an annual event by an organization called Work With Pride Business representatives and LGBT employees spoke about ways to improve working conditions for members of the LGBT community.

They talked about the importance of creating working environments where LGBT people can feel comfortable and get help immediately if they encounter harassment. One of the nonprofit organizations that took part was Good Aging Yells, a group that establishes venues such as cafes where people in the LGBT community can socialize. The organization's president, Gon Matsunaka, says he wants Japanese companies to share ideas and promote diversity in the workforce.

LGBT people still struggle in Japan

Japan has no law protecting people from discrimination based on sexual orientation. Nor does the country recognize same-sex marriage. A support group called ReBit conducted a survey last year, asking members of the LGBT community if they had ever faced discrimination or harassment while job hunting. Among those who identify as transgender, nearly 90 percent said "yes."

But Work With Pride says efforts to make workplaces more inclusive have begun to spread. It says the number of companies or organizations it has certified as making such efforts has more than doubled in the last three years, from 79 to 192.

Diversity in hiring

Kento Hoshi, CEO of JobRainbow, is spearheading efforts to help companies recruit more people from the LGBT community.

JobRainbow is an employment agency for LGBT people and companies hoping to hire them. Kento Hoshi, the CEO, says any company that hopes to make a social impact has to consider the issue of diversity. Over 500 businesses have sought Hoshi's advice since he launched the agency.

On October 2, Hoshi organized a seminar for representatives of 12 firms. He showed them how to create more agreeable working conditions. Participants were taught how to respond when employees reveal that they are members of the LGBT community. Chie Oshima, a senior manager with cyber-security firm Trend Micro says the company is focused on hiring bright students, and it doesn't matter whether they are LGBT or not.

Painful experience sparks an idea

Personal experiences inspired Hoshi to create his firm. He was bullied severely by his junior high school classmates, who accused him of behaving like a girl. As a result, he often stayed away from school. Later, he noticed that some university friends were having trouble landing jobs because they were LGBT.

"I thought maybe other LGBT people might be suffering and feeling lonely, too," says Hoshi. "So, I wanted to create a society in which LGBT people could work and remain true to themselves."

Eliminating unconscious discrimination


Recently, a telecommunications company hoping to diversify its workforce reached out to Hoshi. He was asked to host a ceremony for new employees. Hoshi took the opportunity to conduct a training exercise. He asked the students to discuss various types of discrimination. At the end he surprised the students by revealing that four of the attendees were not potential employees, but members of the LGBT community who had been secretly planted among them. "I had no idea. Now, I'm worried I may have said something rude before they were pointed out to us," said one participant.

Another said the phrase that will stick with them is 'unintended discrimination.' "I want to try to avoid hurting people with my words," she said.

Diversifying Japan's workforce

Hoshi believes the number of businesses trying to improve working conditions for LGBT employees is growing steadily in Japan. One major advertising agency estimates that Japan's LGBT market is worth about 56 billion dollars a year.

And as Japanese businesses struggle to cope with acute labor shortage, it's more important than ever to create inclusive work environments.

Hoshi says "Companies are making the creation of LGBT-friendly working environments part of their business strategies, and we'll keep supporting them. I believe that will make it easier for LGBT people, and all people, to stay true to themselves." A business that started as just an idea to help other LGBT people find jobs could eventually have a profound impact on Japan's economy.