On August 23, 2021, Accenture Japan held its third annual Cross-Cultural Day in line with the theme "We are the culture of Accenture". The online event, part of Accenture's global inclusion and diversity initiatives, brought together an international group of individuals based in Japan for a discussion around creating frictionless communication and collaboration. In keeping with the goal of inclusion, it was again conducted in English with simultaneous Japanese interpreting. The event included impactful video messages, initiative updates, and panel discussions.

Cross-cultural awareness building is one of the four key areas of Accenture's inclusion and diversity policy, along with gender equality, access for persons with disabilities, and LGBTQ pride. This ongoing event is indicative of Accenture's global stand in favor of shared understanding and the organization’s commitment to helping everyone be their best and do their best.

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How Accenture Works Across Cultures

Cross Culture Update

Hirotaka Kawata, Japan Inclusion & Diversity Cross Cultural Diversity Lead, welcomed everyone, commenting that as Accenture’s business in Japan continues to grow, “our clients are getting more and more international, and therefore it’s critically important for us to improve our cross-cultural competence.”

The importance of cross-cultural initiatives

Next, Accenture Japan senior leaders shared a series of video messages about their personal experiences and perspectives.

One theme that came up repeatedly was the importance of cross-cultural expertise and knowledge of diversity, both for career building and for providing value to clients. It was pointed out that the growth momentum of the Japanese market highlights the need for global expertise now more than ever. This means leveraging global assets to deliver value to clients by working with teams around the world, including in China, the Philippines, Malaysia, India, and even Europe. To achieve this, Japan S&C is focused on multiple initiatives to leverage the power of diversity, including incoming transfers, English training, and collaboration with a capability network.

Another key theme was the importance of bringing together the talents of Accenture people as One Accenture. By driving cross-cultural initiatives together, teams can help to change customer experiences and create a better world. Cross-cultural initiatives are not only crucial to working more effectively for clients, but also contribute to an enjoyable working environment.

Cross-Cultural Leadership Panel

Kawata then introduced a panel of Cross Culture Diversity Leads from various service groups, asking each to comment on the importance of cross-cultural diversity and competency, their personal experiences in the area, and initiatives their groups are engaged in.

The panelists began by talking about how clients expect Accenture to provide the best solutions and finest talent from all over the Accenture world. The recent rapid global growth of Japan-based accounts, as well as growth into Japan by global clients, is driving the need to recruit more diverse, cross-culture-capable talent, leverage capability networks, and fully utilize offshore teams. “Now is the time for S&C to further globalize our working model,” said Soichiro Muto, Strategy & Consulting Cross Cultural Diversity Lead, citing the important example of strengthening working relationship with colleagues in India.

The panelists all agreed that cross culture is about much more than language, and that everyone needs to be ready to work smoothly with people with diverse backgrounds in creative and design work as well as consulting and sales. And with many mid-career hires, people coming in through mergers and acquisitions, as well as international employees, “cross culture and inclusion & diversity is a core of our business,” explained Mamoru Sato, Interactive Cross Cultural Diversity Lead. It was also pointed out that as many as 10% of the Operations team in Japan are non-native Japanese speakers, and that everyone is constantly working with teams at overseas delivery centers in India, the Philippines and throughout the world. Therefore, explained Yiyuan Sun, Operations I&D Sponsor, Cross Cultural Diversity Lead, “understanding and respecting different cultures is indispensable.”

Another theme was that working with colleagues from other cultures can be both fun and extremely fruitful, providing opportunities to gain knowledge and new perspectives. As a non-native Japanese speaker, Sun said that she is keenly aware of the challenges and wants to do everything she can to support other non-native Japanese speakers in Japan. Jun Hyodo, Accenture Japan Technology Cross Cultural Diversity Lead, whose early experience working in Dalian, China contributed strongly to the growth of his career, added that overseas colleagues can be “our strongest supporters and best friends.”

Some of the ongoing initiatives shared during the discussion included a Global Career Program document dealing with cultural differences, originally created by Chinese Technology employees working in Japan and now translated into English. Sato mentioned that the Interactive team maintains a Facebook group devoted to casual exchanges on cross-cultural issues, while Sun talked about both a Teams channel and a club she runs that host regular discussions around cross-cultural themes.

Kawata concluded the discussion by announcing that he has formed a Cross Culture Executive Committee that brings together the panel’s members and other leaders in Japan to exchange ideas on new cross-cultural competency initiatives.

Initiatives Update

Kawata next introduced three initiatives designed to realize frictionless collaboration across various culture backgrounds, including the 10-11% of employees working in Japan who are non-Japanese: Cross-Cultural Training, Networking and Community, and Internal Communication (Awareness Training).

Kawata revealed that the Japan portal site has been converted to a bilingual interface (Japanese and English) to facilitate shared understanding. He also announced the development of awareness-raising videos to be embedded in training courses, and he shared part of one which highlights the importance of keeping Japanese and non-Japanese speakers in the loop. In terms of Networking and Community, although physical gatherings are still impossible due to COVID, Kawata said that everyone should look forward to fun online events designed to foster mutual understanding that will be held in the near future.

A New Generation of Multicultural Leaders

Next, Gwyneth Lloyd-Jones of Accenture Leadership led a panel discussion featuring some new young leaders: Lizi Chen, Manager, Operations; Makiko Endo, Manager, S&C; Sayaka Hata, Specialist, Interactive; and Malay Agrahari, Associate Manager, Technology. Lloyd-Jones asked them about recent experiences of cross-cultural awareness, skills that non-native Japanese can leverage in their careers, and what Accenture Japan needs to do to enhance cross-cultural diversity.

Chen previously worked in Shanghai and often puts her trilingual skills to work in her current projects, but says “Language is less important than being willing to communicate with people from different cultures.” She appreciates the globalization of Accenture and urged that cross-cultural issues between Accenture teams and their global clients should be addressed at the outset of a project to ensure smooth progress.

Endo was born in Japan, went to college in the US and has worked mainly on international projects. She commented that she finds Western clients tend to want to see rapid progress right away whereas Japanese clients may request more detailed planning in advance. She emphasized that when someone needs support, they should reach out “because there’s usually someone in Accenture with relevant experience who can help.”

Hata joined Accenture from IMJ and has spent most of her career working on global projects. She has learned that “the Japanese way of doing things is not the only way.” She urged that the focus on diversity always include gender and LGBTQ issues and that everyone continue to help those in the majority understand the perspective of minorities.

Agrahari has worked for Accenture for a decade and no doubt many more to come. He joined Accenture India then moved to, Singapore, Germany, Saudi Arabia, and Japan, where he has been involved in many multicultural projects. He emphasized that people need time to get comfortable after moving to a new country before they can feel ready to excel professionally. He urged everyone to consider diversity as “an opportunity to enhance our cultural horizons.”

Lloyd-Jones concluded it is important for all of us to be open-minded and aware of different cultural backgrounds. By doing so, we can expand our thinking, be more flexible in solving issues and provide better ways to approach our client’s business needs. We hope that this event and our panel discussion will give everyone a hints about some of the things that you need to be aware of or can start doing in your daily work with your team.

An Overflow of Questions

As Accenture Japan becomes ever more international, the importance of cross-cultural diversity keeps growing, and the conversation is just getting started.

This year’s event concluded with a Q&A session led by Jens Hallensleben. Over 850 employees attended the event and asked questions such as, "How do I explain the importance of cross-culture?" and "How do I collaborate in terms of cross-culture when face-to-face communication is not possible due to the pandemic? In response to one question, Kawata talked about how he describes the importance of cross-cultural diversity, explaining that since many clients and ecosystem partners are international, it is essential that Accenture Japan team members be equipped to deal with cross-cultural communication issues.

Promising answers to the many questions received, MC Shizume wrapped up a highly engaging and very successful event.

Click here to learn more about Accenture's Inclusion & Diversity initiative.

Yuji Shizume

Senior Manager, Strategy and Consulting, Industry X

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