In this series, the Rakuten Today team sits down with leaders working on sustainability across the Rakuten Group to better understand their organization’s mission and how they are driving Rakuten’s vision of a sustainable future for all.
The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals are driven by a simple, yet powerful tenet: Leave No One Behind.
With offices in some 30 different countries and over one billion users around the world, Rakuten touches the lives of a highly diverse group of people. Unsurprisingly, the topic of diversity and inclusion is one of crucial importance for Rakuten’s employees.
We spoke with the D&I leaders working to build inclusion into the very heart of Rakuten’s culture and services.
Rakuten’s D&I champions
Shinji Kuroda serves as General Manager of Rakuten’s Group Human Resources Department. He says his work is driven by his own experiences.
“I have worked on numerous global projects which have given me great insights into how people from different backgrounds work,” he says. “I was especially surprised to see vast differences in how people manage projects and make decisions. These experiences have opened my eyes and helped foster my management capabilities.”
Chris Lawson heads Rakuten’s Global Talent and Inclusion efforts. He tells of his own personal life journey through various aspects of diversity and inclusion.
“This journey includes celebrating my 25th marriage anniversary with my partner, and he and I adopting two African American brothers, which has led to many different encounters that are not typical of a straight white male parent experiences.”
“My goal as a global D&I and Talent leader is to help all of us create and maintain a workplace where we feel empowered to bring disruptive innovations to work”Chris Lawson, Director, Global Talent Management
Chris’ own sexual orientation brought him in contact with discrimination at a previous stage in his career.
“This experience has made me appreciate the importance of creating a workplace culture that is inclusive of all employees, regardless of their sexual orientation, race, gender, or any other characteristic that may make them different from others.”
It’s this very culture that Chris is working to build at Rakuten.
“To achieve this, I champion D&I initiatives and policies that promote diversity, equity, and belonging,” he explains. “This involves working collaboratively with teams across the globe to ensure that our recruitment, retention, promotion, cultural awareness activities, and management practices are inclusive and equitable. My goal as a global D&I and Talent leader is to help all of us create and maintain a workplace where we feel empowered to bring disruptive innovations to work and service offerings.”
Globally aligned, locally relevant
Rakuten has a highly diverse workforce serving an even more diverse customer base. As such, Rakuten’s policies must be simultaneously inclusive to all, and tailored to individual cultures.
“There are many roads to create and maintain an inclusive environment,” Shinji says. “But each road needs to make sense locally, because that is where the benefits are felt.”
Chris and the global team took on this challenge by starting with the big picture and working inwards.
“We began with a global framework,” he says. “This includes a worldwide vision, mission and four-pillar strategic approach. It allows us to speak with one voice on a shared vision: that Inclusion Enables Innovation – and the mission behind that vision.”
Pillar #1: Grow and advance a diverse workforce
The four pillars that guide Rakuten’s D&I efforts are built for flexibility, allowing for local actions that specific regions or offices might want to pursue. Pillar #1 focuses on growing and advancing a diverse workforce by understanding local contexts.
“We examine our employee base around the world and ensure that we create processes, policies, and practices that give us a representative workforce,” Chris explains. “This includes a review of local recruiting, development and recognition practices. We have launched local committees that have reviewed practices in these areas and address consistency needs, such as standardizing interview processes, hiring manager training, development planning tools and consistency in benefits.”
Chris highlights one particular initiative in this area: “The Women at Rakuten network launched our Executive Leap Program, which focuses on elevating and developing annual cohorts of female nominated future leaders through executive panels and skill development training.”
Pillar #2: Foster a culture of belonging
Pillar #2 looks to foster a culture of inclusiveness and belonging through initiatives such as employee resource groups (ERGs).
“It’s how we seek to understand each other and build together a working environment that draws in and welcomes all of us,” Shinji explains. “The major lift in these areas centers around our ERGs that are formed locally based on local interests and relevance.”
Many of these resource groups have formed organically in various global Rakuten offices around the world.
“For example, we have the Rakuten Family Empowerment Network in Japan, which serves as a support hub for working parents, as well as RakAbility, our Pride+ team, and our Black Employees Alliance,” Shinji lists. “We also have Mental Health Awareness training sessions in our AMER/EMEA region offices, for all employees and for managers looking to support their teams.”
Pillar #3: Build an inclusive brand
Pillar #3 focuses on building an inclusive brand, and communicating to customers what Rakuten is all about.
“This includes activities to raise the inclusive depth behind our brand from a customer’s perspective,” Chris explains. “For example, the Black Employees Alliance is working closely with multiple business units to promote the Grow with Optimism initiative, which seeks to increase onboarding and support to diverse brands and mindful and optimistic consumption categories. It has brought in around $700K in revenue.”
Rakuten’s digital contents services are also active in inclusive branding.
Shinji highlights a Japan initiative: “Rakuten Beauty conducted market research in preparation to create a more inclusive hair salon experience, collecting feedback from more than 700 customers at Japan’s biggest pride event.”
Pillar #4: Empower our communities
And finally, pillar #4 covers how Rakuten empowers local communities.
“As a company, Rakuten has had strong social empowerment initiatives for some time now. This global practice involves employee outreach and impact to non-profit community causes,” Chris reveals. “From local volunteerism to financial support for community programs, Rakuten employees are highly engaged in raising the quality of living in their communities.”
“In 2022, we launched a new initiative in Japan called Dialogue for Change, which took on the topic of Women’s Leadership and Empowerment for its inaugural year,” Shinji outlines. “The project sparked dialogue among some 120 stakeholders including Rakuten employees, NPO and NGO members, government workers and Rakuten merchants.”
Rakuten India is also active in community empowerment, collaborating with the government to rebuild local schools; launching a Youth Empowerment Program to teach kids practical English skills; and starting a Women Empowerment Program to help local women build livelihoods.
Rakuten’s Singapore offices are hosting more Tech-Talks for community outreach and engagement and employees have been taking on volunteer work with local charity Willing Hearts.
Embracing diversity, driving innovation
“Rakuten’s vision is to be a Global Innovation Company,” Shinji says. “We drive disruptive innovation, engaging knowledge, creativity and passion from around the world. We aim to achieve these goals by fully unleashing the talents of our employees. Through inclusion, we enable innovation.”
For Rakuten, a focus on D&I is much more than a moral obligation; rather, it’s a fundamental driver of business success.
“Working for a company that values and supports your community is another reason to stay for many Rakutenians”Shinji Kuroda, General Manager of Rakuten’s Group Human Resources Department
“Internally, we strive for a work environment where all employees are welcomed and encouraged to bring out their talents, perspectives and aspirations,” Chris explains. “This is what drives those disruptive innovations that meet the needs of all the communities where we do business.”
D&I initiatives also play a crucial role in attracting and retaining the best possible talent to Rakuten.
“From broad employee feedback to our Organization Health survey, these activities have been seen as an asset of working for Rakuten.” Shinji boasts, “we must all make choices about joining and staying at Rakuten, and these aspects of our culture and practices are strong motivators. In addition to doing impactful innovative work, company benefits and career development opportunities, working for a company that values and supports your community is another reason to stay for many Rakutenians.”
A capable workforce translates to even better customer-facing products and services, Chris says.
“Externally, by more fully unleashing our talents, we can focus on Omotenashi and Shikumika,” he explains. “This enables us to anticipate our diverse customers’ needs and continuously improve on our ability to design and deliver products that empower customers to realize their hopes and dreams – whether that’s a journey to faraway lands or courtside seats at a Warriors game.”
Understanding Rakuten’s customers is a key advantage to having a diverse team, Chris stresses.
“To be an innovation engine for change, across our ecosystem we need insights on market trends and local needs from all the communities where we do business. This begins with having a representative workforce through whom we can connect the needs of our diverse customers, merchants and communities.”
Principles and passions
For Shinji, his mission at Rakuten is also driven by his personal beliefs.
“I believe that Diversity & Inclusion is a precious opportunity for every individual to wake up and reveal their hidden abilities or talent,” Shinji argues. “For this reason, I am committed to promoting activities in this pursuit.”
Chris is frank about the fact that his own background plays an inextricable role in his work.
“I am the sum of my experiences and passions. I bring these to my role here at Rakuten and firmly believe that every individual comes into this world with a unique set of gifts and abilities. It is our responsibility as leaders to help employees discover and unleash their talents,” he says. “Together we can build a stronger and more resilient organization that is better equipped to meet the needs of our customers and our own personal aspirations.”