Inclusive salons: Rakuten’s latest DEI project to reach out to customers

An inclusive environment benefits everyone, whether at school, in the workplace, or even at the salon. Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives have been a welcome addition to many corporate agendas in recent years, as companies like Rakuten aim to build workplaces in which all employees feel comfortable.

Recently, Rakuten has taken these efforts a step further, extending DEI initiatives beyond the corporate walls to drive social impact through its customer-facing services. On March 28, Rakuten launched Service Inclusion, an initiative that aims to promote the development of inclusive services designed for diverse customer needs.

Kicking off the initiative is the Inclusive Salon Project, a first-of-its-kind effort to promote LGBTQ+ inclusion in Japan’s beauty industry.

The endeavor is being undertaken through Rakuten Beauty, Rakuten’s online platform for booking salons in Japan.

Driving the initiative is Saeko Mori from the Service Inclusion team. “Ultimately we want to make the Rakuten Beauty website and the customer experience at the salon more inclusive towards marginalized communities.”

Mori joined Rakuten in late 2022, looking to pursue a lifelong passion of promoting diversity, equity and inclusion. “I’ve always wanted to do DEI work,” she reveals. “We all work at least eight hours a day, so if I’m going to spend that much time and energy, I want to do something I really care about and am passionate about.”

Reaching out to customers

While many companies focus DEI initiatives inwardly on employees, Rakuten is taking an outward-facing approach by embedding inclusion into the Rakuten Ecosystem, which enjoys some 40 million monthly active users in Japan.

For the first phase of the Inclusive Salon Project, the team conducted surveys among the LGBTQ+ community to understand pain points in their experiences booking beauty services and visiting salons.

“When making a reservation, there’s a lot of gender binary information, like service menus that say women’s haircut or men’s haircut. Some salons even ask for your gender identity with only man or woman options. There’s also a lack of inclusive representation in the hairstyle galleries which only show cisgender models.”

Mori’s team understands that delivering an inclusive customer experience requires a true end-to-end approach.

“Ultimately the whole experience has to be inclusive – from the website, to making reservations, to the salon visit itself,” states Mori. “Approaching the user interface and how we can make the Rakuten Beauty website more inclusive is the next big step.”

Back row from left: Kota Hanzawa, Asuka Kaji and Yukari Fukazawa from Rakuten Beauty, Saeko Mori Front row from left: Tamaki Morizono, Hiroko Imai and Yuki Ito from the Rakuten Beauty team
Back row from left: Kota Hanzawa, Asuka Kaji and Yukari Fukazawa from Rakuten Beauty, Saeko Mori.
Front row from left: Tamaki Morizono, Hiroko Imai and Yuki Ito from the Rakuten Beauty team

The team is addressing these issues on Rakuten Beauty’s own reservation pages, but they haven’t stopped there. One of Rakuten’s strengths lies in its vast network of partners, something that Mori hopes to leverage to affect social change.

“At the salon itself, a big issue is the language the staff use, which is often rooted in heteronormative assumptions and reinforces the binary perception of gender. Female-presenting respondents gave examples of being asked if they have a husband or boyfriend, or getting pushback on masculine hairstyle choices as women. The experience was described as very uncomfortable and exclusionary.”

To help address these issues, the project’s first output is a series of training videos educating salon staff on basic LGBTQ+ concepts, the community’s needs and steps to create an inclusive, gender-affirming environment. The aim is for salons to start “thinking this is important to keep customers satisfied.”

What’s next?

What makes the Inclusive Salon Project particularly impactful is Rakuten’s unique position connecting service providers to customers through the broad reach of the Rakuten Ecosystem.

“Rakuten Beauty is the first platform directly engaging salons on inclusion, so we’re uniquely positioned,” explains Hiroko Imai, Manager at Rakuten Beauty’s UX Design Section. “If we can get industry groups using our materials in their own training sessions, we can really help move the needle and spread awareness.”

Rakuten’s unique ecosystem that spans e-commerce, travel, mobile services and more gives it an unparalleled opportunity, Imai says.

“The fact that Rakuten is doing service inclusion like this is really impactful on society. We’re first showing it can be done in the beauty industry, but because of our diverse business portfolio, we can bring that same inclusive impact to different industries with different audiences.”

Rakuten was in full force at Tokyo Pride 2024, where the Rakuten Beauty team introduced the Inclusive Salon Project to members of the LGBTQ+ community
Rakuten was in full force at Tokyo Pride 2024, where the Rakuten Beauty team introduced the Inclusive Salon Project to members of the LGBTQ+ community.

New territory for Japan’s corporate landscape

Being able to provide inclusive services starts with an inclusive environment within the company, says Kota Hanzawa, Manager of Rakuten’s DEIB Group.

“The idea of really seeing the importance of diversity and inclusion and applying that to services is crucial,” he explains. “But it’s the employees who are creating those services, so developing an inclusive mindset is just as important.”

By taking its DEI commitment to the services level, Rakuten is charting new territory in Japan’s corporate landscape.

“The idea that a company is trying to improve their services, not just make employees happy – that’s still quite new in Japan where DEI is often seen as a nice to have rather than crucial for business. But if you can improve services, that impacts society far beyond just your employees.”

Hanzawa notes that Service Inclusion resonates strongly with Rakuten’s corporate philosophy. If the effort proves successful in enhancing inclusion across sectors like beauty, travel and mobile services, the positive ripple effects could be far-reaching.

“Rakuten is in a position to bring this same inclusion impact to different industries and audiences,” Hanzawa remarks. “That is really aligned with our mission of empowering society through our unique business model and services.”

While the road ahead may present challenges, Mori, Imai and Hanzawa’s Inclusive Salon Project represents a bold first step in leveraging Rakuten’s strengths to build a more equitable and welcoming society for all.

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