The Soft Power of Inclusion: LGBTQ Equality in Japan

by Guest Contributors

HRC President Chad Griffin and Goldman Sachs Japan's Naosuke Fujita joined hundreds of LGBTQ business advocates to convene for the now annual Work with Pride summit.

The global fight for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) equality is often depicted as being about changing laws and changing society. The key ingredients though, to bringing about these sweeping changes, are courage, visible leadership, and credibility – the soft power of inclusion. Corporations have been at the forefront of this movement, because it’s both the right thing to do and it’s good for business.  Their leadership here is no less important as the campaign for inclusion gains momentum in Japan.

This October  in Tokyo, we joined hundreds of LGBTQ business advocates convened for the now annual Work with Pride summit. These leaders from the business community and LGBTQ advocacy sector know the power of visibility and the courage it takes to come out at work and to be an ally.

Both of us have lived and worked in Japan, and we’ve seen first-hand the potential for greater equality. We’ve also both seen that when LGBTQ people are able to live openly and honestly at work, it has a positive impact on everyone around them. This is certainly true for Hiroki Inaba, a lawyer at Goldman Sachs in Tokyo.  After coming out, he immediately saw his own self confidence hugely impact those around him. It even spurred a fledgling group to gather in support of LGBTQ employees, which quickly grew and, in February 2016, formed into the Lawyers for LGBT & Allies Network —  a group of lawyers across various firms dedicated to promoting conversation and realizing equality in Japan.

Each individual in the workplace has the power to change LGBTQ people’s lives for the better. By speaking up, by supporting someone who is coming out, and by treating others as one would like to be treated, small actions can change everything. Progress for LGBTQ people, in Japan and around the globe, is moving forward for exactly one reason: individuals showing kindness and understanding for one another. 

Beyond hearts and minds, we know the data backs up the bold notion asserted on a stage during the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos. LGBTQ inclusion across the global private sector is not just good for business, in today’s — and most importantly, tomorrow’s — economy, it is absolutely essential.

Today’s consumers are seeking brands that reflect their values. In the U.S., the estimated purchasing power of the LGBTQ community is $917 billion. In Japan, it’s over $200 billion. Globally, LGBTQ buying power is estimated in the trillions of dollars. Even small changes go a long way. Japan Airlines, for instance, is now letting same-sex couples share frequent flyer miles. That’s a great way to stand out and build brand loyalty.

It also creates a race to the top. For 15 years, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) has rated workplaces on their inclusive workplace policies through the HRC Foundation’s Corporate Equality Index. Today, that Index is the gold standard for business leaders in the U.S. and increasingly with their colleagues around the world.

In 2002, only 13 companies scored a perfect 100 on the Index. This year, 515 did. Every year, there’s a new competition for top recognition and it crosses borders. Two years ago, top-rated businesses included in the CEI were required to expand their LGBTQ protections to their global operations.

Hundreds of multinational employers answered that call, including Work with Pride sponsors. Goldman Sachs, EY, Deutsche Bank, IBM and others all work with the HRC to ensure their commitment to inclusion is felt from New York to Tokyo and beyond.

Increasingly, Japanese businesses are joining the ranks of their global peers as champions of equality. 

Last year, Panasonic and Sony announced that they would provide equal partnership benefits to their LGBTQ employees. And this year, the Japan Business Federation announced guidelines on LGBTQ equality in the workplace based on the HRC Foundation’s Corporate Equality Index.

These initiatives can only embolden other Japanese employers to do more, which is why the HRC is establishing new partnerships with Lawyers for LGBT & Allies Network, Work with Pride, and other leaders to identify key opportunities across corporate Japan, create new resources and benchmarks for employers, and advance our shared vision for workplace inclusion worldwide. These types of partnerships can have a deep, lasting, human impact.

We will continue expanding the map for equality because an LGBTQ worker in Japan is just as worthy of fairness on the job as any employee around the world.


Chad Griffin is the president of the Human Rights Campaign, America’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) civil rights organization.

Naosuke Fujita is Managing Director and General Counsel with Goldman Sachs Japan who co-founded Lawyers for LGBT & Allies Network — a group of lawyers dedicated to promoting conversation and realizing equality in Japan.