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When Yoshiro Mori, president of the Tokyo Olympics committee, complained last month that women did not belong on leadership committees because they talk too much, the global backlash was instant and unforgiving. Mori, a former prime minister of Japan, resigned and was replaced by Seiko Hashimoto, a female government minister and former Olympian.
Mori’s remarks were not only sexist, but factually incorrect. A much cited 1993 review of 56 studies of speaking patterns in meetings found only two showing that women talked more; 34 found men talked more — and in the remainder the sexes behaved similarly. More recent studies have found similar results.
But the episode highlights a challenge that employers worldwide are struggling with. Efforts to diversify leadership teams and workforces are finally bearing fruit. To benefit, however, companies must ensure that people with different perspectives are heeded, respected and retained rather than just present, resented or ignored.
This is particularly important right now. Years of progress toward improved gender and racial equity are under threat as women and ethnic minorities disproportionately bear the burden of helping their families cope with the Covid-19 pandemic. Unless employers find ways to make clear their contributions are valued — and update working practices to help them stay in the workforce — their participation is likely to fall.
Seiko Hashimoto replaced Yoshiro Mori as president of the Tokyo Olympics committee © Alamy