The 28th ICWB on Sunday, August 27th was a great success!
We'll be posting the conference report soon. Stay tuned!
The passion and energy were palpable!
In Part 1 of the ICWB, 44 industry leaders and over 1,000 participants from 17 countries immersed themselves in the day’s offerings. Inspired by the theme, everyone took a step toward completing the sentence “I Challenge...” for themselves.
The International Conference for Women in Business (ICWB), Japan’s largest diversity conference, is held every summer. For our 28th year, we created two separate events for the first time; Part 1 was held online on July 9th, 2023 and Part 2 will be held in Tokyo on August 27th.
The percentage of male participants has been increasing year after year, and 2023 showed a record-high of approximately 25%! Over 1,000 highly-motivated people, ranging from high school students to CEOs, gathered online from 17 countries including Japan, the United States, Spain, Germany, India, Nigeria, and Poland.
At 10 AM, ICWB Chair Kaori Sasaki greeted everyone from the main stage in Tokyo. Ms. Sasaki produces this open, dynamic conference every year. She plans the theme, curates the lineup of speakers from her personal network, and meets with each one to set the direction. This is why, as she moderates for the 10 hours of the conference, the speakers open their hearts and show their trust in her and share valuable information for the benefit of the participants. This conference is one of a kind.
In the opening, Ms. Sasaki spoke about this year’s theme: “I Challenge”. “The objective of diversity is to gather the experiences, opinions, wisdom, and passions of various people to yield the best results. National and corporate systems/mechanisms are essential, but it is equally important that each of us, as individuals, grow, improve our skills, and have the mindset to contribute so that our experiences, devotion, and perspectives can be harnessed. “This is why the theme has ‘I’ as the subject,” she said. “‘I Challenge’ is an incomplete sentence, and ‘challenge’ is a transitive verb that requires an object. Listen to the many discussions today and consider what you will challenge yourself to do. I encourage you to find the words to complete this sentence!”
With this, the nonstop 10-hour event began. First up for the morning session was New York resident Keiko Honda, who is the former MIGA CEO and currently teaches at Columbia University graduate school while serving as an outside director for multiple companies. Coincidentally in Tokyo this day, she took the podium at the studio. She spoke of her further aspirations in what could be considered a sequel to “The best is yet to come” concept that she shared in the 2021 ICWB and deepened her dialogue with Ms. Sasaki.
The following live broadcast from Manhattan featured NHK World Executive Producer Minori Takao. From the center of Times Square, with people milling about under billboards for Broadway shows as a backdrop, she reported on the current situation of diversity in the performing arts and film industries—of how diversity has been achieved with Broadway actors and creative teams. She shared specific examples, such as how “Bobby” was changed to “Bobbie” in a musical, provoking us to think about the meaning and reality of diversity.
The spinning globe on the screen took us next to Argentina, where entrepreneur Tatiana Malvasio showed us how her company uses AI to manage and save water used in agriculture, and then sells it to GAFA companies (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon) to cool their servers. To date, over 50 billion liters of water has been saved.
In a live broadcast from Silicon Valley, Shie Lundberg greeted us. Ms. Lindberg is responsible for risk compliance technologies and PMO in the Core Engineering organization of Google headquarters. In her 10 years at Google, she has been highly commended yearly and steadily worked her way up the ladder. With experience in managing teams ranging in size from several dozen to several thousand, she used specific examples to describe the key points to building the best teams. She and Kaori Sasaki also explored what companies in Japan can do.
We moved down the coast to Angeles to hear from Betsy Berkhemer-Credaire, CEO of 50/50 Women on Boards, a major US organization that promotes female directors. 50/50 Women on Boards is a partner of ewoman’s female director network “THE BOARD” and the two organizations will host a joint event this fall in Tokyo. She shared the latest data and spoke about the reality and issues they face as well as her initiatives attract and promote female directors in the US. She also offered advice to future female directors: “You must pitch your intent of becoming a director and how you wish to contribute. It is imperative to speak with confidence.”
The stage shifted to Japan for a talk session between NEC Corporation President and CEO Takayuki Morita and Kaori Sasaki. NEC, the world-leading company of facial recognition technology, has marked record-high profit and brought a foreign female director to the board. In a lively conversation titled, “Tapping the global market with diversity management”, they discussed his past two years as CEO, his ambitions for his current third year, diversity in overseas locations, and generative AI.
This was followed by video messages from “graduates”, those who were sponsored by working participants through the Matching Sponsor Program as high school or college students to participate in previous ICWBs. Five graduates sent video messages with life updates. One said, “I was in my second year of high school when I participated in the 21st ICWB. I am now a fifth-year medical student and want to become a gynecologist who helps women.” The graduates expressed their appreciation to their sponsors and reported how they have grown since, with broadened perspectives, more life options, and heightened motivation.
During the lunch period, participants from around the world networked with each other in small breakout groups. Conversation was lively in all, with comments such as “I’ve already learned so much in the morning. Many of the initiatives were new to me,” and “The words of successful people at home and abroad are powerful and motivate me.” Participants created ties with each other as well.
The afternoon session was kicked off with a message from Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike. She emphatically encouraged women, saying, “The city of Tokyo offers its full support for the ambitious challenges taken on by women. Let’s blaze a path together to a bright future where people can shine!”
Next was Seiko Noda, member of the House of Representatives and one of Japan’s best known politicians. A regular speaker at ICWB almost every year, she spoke this year about the gender gap in politics and various initiatives to remedy it. “From the Diet, where the presence of women is still rare, I want to work with all of you to make women empowerment policies visible,” she stated with determination.
On the same screen, Minister of State Taro Kono, who also speaks at ICWB almost every year, joined us from Awaji Island. Kaori Sasaki also joined briefly to chat with Mr. Kono and Ms. Noda. Minister Kono spoke of Japan’s challenge for digitalization, emphasizing “What is the purpose of digitalization? It is to create a society with warmth, where people are considerate of each other.”
We next returned to the main stage in Tokyo. Michikazu Matsushita executive vice president of Panasonic Corporation, and Makiko Eda, Japan’s chief representative officer of the World Economic Forum, spoke candidly under the theme of “Lifting and Empowering People.” They spoke about the current state of the gender gap index ranking, in which Japan was just recently announced to be 125th in the world, and specific examples from Panasonic’s various reforms to promote diversity.
The next speaker was attorney Shione Kinoshita, who was ranked #1 for “Lawyers Chosen by Corporations” in the labor category. In the conversation with Kaori Sasaki, Ms. Kinoshita shared her observations from over the past 40 years and whether companies are truly aiming to change, as well as specific examples about employee-friendly systems and equity.
Speakers for the next session—Kathy Matsui, General Partner at MPower Partners Fund L.P.; Wakana Tanaka, LinkedIn Japan Country Manager; Mitsuru Claire Chino, Managing Executive Officer at ITOCHU Corporation; and Asako Aoyama, Corporate SVP Deputy CFO and Accounting, Treasury and FP&A Manager at NEC Corporation—took the stage to discuss “Women and Profitability.” They shared ample data that shows that profitability and other financial indicators improve when women are involved in management and emphasized, which leads to heightened corporate value. They gave sage advice, such as “It’s important to take stock of your own skills and clarify how you can contribute,” and “Learn through everyday reskilling to gain independence in your career.”
Sports and culture journalist Yasuko Miyajima, who has been producing sports programs for over 40 years, spoke with Tomomi Okazaki, former member of the Speed Skating Japan national team and Olympic medalist. Ms. Miyajima, who had followed Ms. Okazaki’s entire skating career, knew exactly what questions to ask. Ms. Okazaki shared stories of her idyllic childhood amid the great nature of Hokkaido, her big moments at the Olympics, her struggles from changing ice skates, surgery, being the oldest female participant for Japan at the Vancouver Olympics, giving birth the following year, taking on the challenge of breaking the world record at age 48, her perspective of the experience of missing a medal by just 0.05 seconds and how she applies it to her next step forward. Hearing how Ms. Okazaki continues to challenge herself inspired us all.
We moved on to Las Vegas to hear from the #1 baton twirler in the world, Noriko Takahashi, a main cast member in Cirque du Soleil’s show Kà who reached her 7,000th performance in June 2023. Still in her makeup and costume from the show, she spoke about the path she started as a high school student: “I am plowing forward, because I know I can’t quit until I’ve given it my everything!” Participants around the world surely sent her great applause for continuing to embrace challenges.
We then switched gears. Simultaneous interpretation had been available until this point, but the five Roundtable sessions were conducted in Japanese or English only for about 70 minutes.
Five sessions were available: “AI at Work” and “Inspiring Entrepreneurs” were conducted in English, and “Sustainable Society and Corporate Management,” “No Limits to My Possibilities,” and “The Challenges of Moving Up.” were conducted in Japanese. Every speaker in the five roundtable sessions was qualified to deliver a keynote speech, but valued the 70-minute format that allows them to speak in depth and take questions. Interaction was lively, with earnest questions and answers in all sessions. Many participants commented, “The roundtable discussions were fantastic!”
The evening session began and simultaneous interpretation resumed.
Senior Protection Officer Kate O’Malley of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) office in Canberra kicked off the evening session in a live broadcast from Canberra, Australia. With the recent revision of the immigration and refugee law, the theme of accepting refugees is in the spotlight in Japan as well. With the perspective that accepting refugees means “I challenge us,” Ms. O’Malley described three advanced refugee acceptance programs, including a project to employ refugees at supermarkets. Kaori Sasaki, who covered refugee camps around the world as a news reporter, commented that there are many opportunities to hire refugees to help them and let them utilize their skills.
Next was a live broadcast from Nigeria, where a girl who knew nothing about money went to university to study finance and then founded the Ed-Tech platform “Money Africa” to offer finance literacy and investment skills to Africans. Oluwatosin Olaseinde, CEO & Founder of Money Africa, which is used by over 500,000 people today, enthusiastically spoke of her next goal: to have 100 million Africans learn about finance. She also shared the Nigerian scenery through her window, which was a treat.
Back on the main stage in Tokyo, Kaori Sasaki was joined by Erika Colon, artistic director of the White Hands Chorus NIPPON, which aims to have both deaf and blind children enjoy Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, and Mariko Tagashira, a photographer who creates works inspired by those activities. There were some tears as the three talked. Some words left a deep impression, such as “Art would not exist if humans were perfect” and “Taking on challenges goes hand in hand with distress, but I look forward to sharing the joy that waits beyond.” The chorus’s activities of singing and listening to Symphony No. 9 while wearing white gloves are capturing attention, such as being recognized by Beethoven-Haus for the first time as “inclusive music education” and being posted online.
To cap off the day, former astronaut Soichi Noguchi, who has recently joined us every year, spoke in front of an image of Earth as it rotated. “Challenges are tasks assigned to us by others. It’s important to have the strength to overcome these,” he said. “We will always be recognized for prevailing over the issues and challenges imposed upon us by society and supervisors.” “As an astronaut, those challenges brought me happiness.” “I look forward to your terrific challenges next year as well,” he added.
Next, Takayuki Morita, president and CEO of our Gold Partner, NEC Corporation, returned to the stage. “ICWB comprehensively covers D&I and it is open, global, and exciting. The continuity and evolution year after year are amazing. I hope that it will continue not just to the 29th and 30th conference, but reach its 50th,” explaining the reason for NEC’s ongoing support of the ICWB. Michikazu Matsushita, executive vice president of Panasonic Corporation, also our Gold Partner, said, “I felt the energy by participating this time, and understood that diversifying management is becoming key. I hope to accelerate this aggressively and more radically.” Yukiko Ozaki, CHRO and CHO of Nomura Holdings, Inc., our Silver Partner, said, “A large number of male employees from our company are also participating in this conference. Every employee must embrace the challenge of setting tasks. I Challenge for the better future!” ICWB highly values our corporate partners, and we extend our sincere appreciation for their enthusiastic messages and support.
Next, we met the high school and college students participating in this day’s conference and the Matching Sponsors who supported their participation. With this program, working adult sponsors not only provide economic assistance so that students can participate in this conference, but also support the students as mentors. They shared their thoughts about the day’s learnings and what struck a chord: “The White Hands Chorus smashed the convention that deaf people cannot create music. I want to become a person that can make breakthroughs like this,” and “I grew up being inspired at this conference since I was in my 20s, and that’s why I became a sponsor.” All the participants were moved and many expressed their gratitude to the Sponsors.
We moved to a networking session between participants, but they were divided by age this time. Participants used this time to share their newly-gained perspectives, experiences, and deep emotions from the day’s learnings, and to connect: “I’ve never been so inspired again and again at a conference.” “I’ve decided on ‘I challenge myself’” “Let’s meet again at Part 2.”
As the conference began to wind down, Masako Mori, special advisor to the prime minister, provided the closing message. She introduced the 30-billion-yen government project launched this year to support women-led startups and shared strong words of encouragement: “I pray that everyone here harnesses what they nurtured today to flourish in their respective fields and enrich their lives, and to become a major force in restoring Japan’s economy.”
As a special treat, today’s speakers joined us again from around the world with a few words to the participants. The passion and energy, even after 10 hours online, had not waned.
Noriko Takahashi, joined from Las Vegas, where it was 3:30 in the morning, said, “Thank you for providing me with the opportunity for a new challenge.” Soichi Noguchi commented, “The conference is always brimming with energy, and I look forward to next year as well.” Motohiro Kamijima of Nomura Holdings said, “This was a refreshing opportunity. I feel more strongly now that men must also vigorously support women’s empowerment and will strive to promote this with strong resolve.” Wakana Tanaka, Country Manager at LinkedIn Japan said, “I was inspired and moved again and again. Taking on challenges regardless of your age—I did not have enough of this. I want to continue to upgrade my skills. Thank you for your impact on Japan!” Many other speakers shared their emotions, praise, and individual resolve in the highly energetic finale.
As Kaori Sasaki expressed her gratitude to the participants, highlights from the day’s energetic conference played on the screen. Viewers recalled the experiences of listening to many speakers, remembered how they were moved and how their hearts were filled with energy. Immediately after the conference ended, hundreds of messages flowed in.
“I gained power for tomorrow from the speakers who joined from all over the world and the other participants I met through networking”
“I am fully recharged with energy”
“The day was like a dream”
“The ten hours flew by!”
“There is no other online event like this”
“It was amazingly energetic and fun!”
“Wow! I was moved!”
“I was inspired again and again by hearing the speakers filled with sentiment. I gained the energy that ‘We are capable of doing this!’ Starting tomorrow, I will share this with those around me!”
“I learned that to ‘feel’ more than ‘think’ is more important! Thank you for all the inspiration”
Part 2 of the 28th ICWB in Daiba, Tokyo on August 27, 2023
The long-awaited day had arrived! At a hotel in Tokyo, the Conference staff, who worked so hard to make this day special, awaited the arrival of the participants.
A line formed and the participants entered the venue the moment the doors opened at 1:00 pm to find seats close to the stage. The participants wasted no time in exchanging business cards and getting to know their table mates. Many also stopped by the booths of our Partner companies in the foyer to learn gather information and to participate in the drawing for gifts.
About 300 people from 13 countries, including Italy, Singapore, and Australia, and from all over Japan who participated in Part 1 also joined Part 2. The male participation rate was 19%, the highest in our history.
The Conference kicked off at 2:00 pm with a highlights video of Part 1 held online on July 9th. The atmosphere changed as everyone focused on the screen, reminiscing about those 10 hours in which leaders from around the world shared their experiences openly with the audience of over 1,000 participants.
First, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida joined by video to speak about his positioning of women's activities at the core of the "new capitalism" that he aims for and his numerical targets for the ratio of female executives in corporate Japan. He closed by saying, "I hope that you will learn even more from today's Conference and take the next big step toward solving social issues.”
In the opening remarks, Kaori Sasaki, ICWB producer, founder and chair, spoke about the theme, “I Challenge”, and shared the background of the Conference and her vision for today’s conference, the 28th ICWB. As the general producer, she diligently met with each speaker individually to share the unique value of the Conference and how they could contribute.
Ms. Sasaki, spoke about why, 28 years ago, she included "Women” in the name of the name of the ICWB, offered examples of unconscious bias that hinder women's opportunities, and explained that the essence of diversity management is to create innovation. With heartfelt emotion, she said, "It is up to each and every one of us to experience this day and then go back to work and build on it.” She ended her opening speech with, “’I Challenge’ becomes ‘We Challenge’ at 7:00 pm. We will open a new path of diversity together. Are you ready?" The ballroom was filled with the voices of participants answering “Yes!”
This Conference featured five Talk Shows. In the first one, Tamao Sasada (Representative Director of Bank of America in Japan and President of BofA Securities) and Wakana Tanaka (Representative Director of LinkedIn Japan) talked about "new leadership" with Asako Aoyama (Deputy CFO of NEC Corporation), who facilitated the session. They spoke about the attributes required of leaders, changes brought about by the Coronavirus pandemic, and how to build a strong team, among other topics.
Next, Kaori Sasaki facilitated a session titled “Challenges to Growth” featuring three presidents of major Japanese corporations. Takayuki Morita (President and CEO, NEC Corporation), Kentaro Okuda (President and Group CEO, Nomura Holdings, Inc.), and Hiroshi Shimizu (President and CEO of Nippon Life Insurance) frankly discussed the current environment and the concrete actions that leaders must take for the future as well as the actions they are taking in their own companies. They spoke about the fact the male-centered monoculture is changing and how the president must convey, to every corner of the organization, the importance of diversity management and to implement targeted initiatives.
The third Talk Show, “Managing Diversity: 2023 Challenges" was an English-language session featuring three female ambassadors to Japan. Journalist Sayuri Daimon facilitated this dynamic session. Ambassador Melba Pria (Mexico), Ambassador Kovač Alexandra (The Republic of Serbia), and Ambassador Leena Annab (Jordan) all spoke about the decision-making processes and initiatives in their respective countries, all of which did not have a gender balance in business and government historically but are making great strides now. They shared specific actions that the Japanese government can take as well as the role of individual women and men in Japan. Ambassador Pria shared how in Mexico, with a GDP that is one-third of Japan’s, has achieved a Congress with 50% women and openly implored Japan to do better. She spoke about her trust in Ms. Sasaki and her respect for her three decades of devotion to women’s advancement in Japan. Many in the audience nodded in agreement when she said, “There are two people I always say yes to even before I know what they are asking. One is Yuriko Koike, the governor of Tokyo, and the other one is Kaori Sasaki.”
In the second video message of the day, Masanobu Ogura (Minister of State for Gender Equality and Social Affairs, Cabinet Office) introduced the efforts made at the G7 Gender Equality Ministers' Meeting in June this year and said, "In order to promote women's activities, it is important not only for the government to take measures, but also for each and every woman to play an active role. We hope that this meeting and others like it will help us to move powerfully to the next stage of action.”
In "The Impact of the Quota System," the fourth Talk Show, facilitated by TV anchor Tomoko Nagano, Keiko Hamada (journalist) and Chie Toriumi (Nomura Securities Representative Director and Vice President) shared examples of successful women's activities and initiatives in various companies. Their powerful message was that there is an urgent need to introduce a quota system that penalizes companies that don’t comply. Ms. Hamada said, "When the numbers change, a lot of things change dramatically. Wouldn't you all like to see that kind of society?” The audience agreed enthusiastically with this powerful call to action.
The last session of the day, facilitated by Kaori Sasaki, was titled "Discovering the Best of Each Region”. Toyoo Tamamura (essayist and owner of a popular winery in Nagano, Japan) shared the power of diverse thinking in their stories of how they, as outsiders, were able to see opportunities that others couldn’t see. Mr. Tamamura spoke about the challenge of cultivating vineyards, starting on dry land and overcoming numerous obstacles in his path to building a winery and related ventures. Yumiko Kamata (president of ONE GLOCAL Co.) shared photos to highlight her work in regional revitalization and how her efforts resulted in commercial products made from farm residue and waste. The participants were motivate with their powerful words: "Knowing what is ahead is boring," and "The more difficulties and the narrower the path, the clearer it is what you need to do”, and "If you don't quit in the middle, it is not a failure.”
When the Talk Shows concluded, everyone moved to the next ballroom where a sumptuous buffet and delicious selection of wines awaited. On stage, Kaori Sasaki was joined by the leaders from the ICWB’s official Partners. Gold Partner NEC’s President Morita said, “It's been a long time since I've felt so real and inspired!" Silver Partner Nomura Holdings’ President Okuda commented, “I could feel everyone's very serious eyes on the stage.” Sharing his passion and inspiration gained from the day, Gold Partner Panasonic’s Vice President Matsushita launched the networking party with a toast, "Let's change the world! I challenge!"
In the second hour, Kaori Sasaki took the stage again to introduce the high school and university students who participated in the "Matching Sponsor Program" and the individual sponsors who supported their participation. The students shared their sentiments: "I want to find out what I can do! I really learned a lot!” The students and their sponsors spoke about how meaningful this experience was to them.
The five hours passed in a blink of an eye and the day came to a reluctant end.
Part 1, with 10 hours online, and Part 2, held seven weeks later, made for 15 hours of stimulating and passion-filled experiences which are deeply engraved in the hearts of those who attended. We deeply appreciate the support of our Partners and Supporters as well as the participants in making this year another resounding success!
Producing the 28th International Women's Business Conference was a challenge this year. After 24 years of in-person conferences and 3 years of online-only conferences, 2023 was a year of transition with an online and in-person conference. Though it was highly successful, we are moving back to the much beloved 10-hour in-person format for 2024.
The 29th International Women's Business Conference will be held on July 28th, 2024 in Tokyo and are already making preparations. Registration will open in May so watch for details on this website. Past participants will also be notified by e-mail.
If you wish to participate for the first time in 2024, please register here: We will send you an invitation by e-mail and look forward to having you join us!
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The theme for this year's conference is "I Challenge". It’s not a complete sentence by design. As the many speakers inspire us with their stories, we’ll take their perspectives and ideas and apply them to our own situation. We’ll connect with other participants inspire each other. At the end of the day, each of us will complete this sentence and identify the challenge we will take on for ourselves. What challenge will you take on? This year's Conference is a day to commit to a challenge and to experience the essence of "diversity" as we work together to make the world a better place.