Diversity and Inclusion – Action Speaks Louder than Words

Written by Sam
December 16, 2015

Written by Sam
December 16, 2015

The BCCJ is fully committed to supporting diversity and inclusion (D&I) in the workplace. On Nov 26, as part of a D&I programme of events we hosted “Diversity – the global standard, with GSK”.

BCCJ members and invited guests heard from Claire Thomas, Senior Vice President, Human Resources for GlaxoSmithKline, and Outstanding European Woman of Achievement in 2007. She is a member of the GSK Corporate Executive Team and was previously Senior Vice President, Human Resources, Pharmaceuticals International.

The session was moderated by Alexander Wellsteed, Investment Advisor, Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC), whose interest in workplace diversity and inclusion stems from career experiences leading investment programs targeting women entrepreneurs in both Africa and Asia.

GSK leaders know that inclusive environments – welcoming different knowledge, perspectives, experiences and working styles – not only enhance individual creativity and innovation, but make good business sense. In 2015, GSK Japan celebrated having 50% of its board, and 31% of corporate officers as women – impressive figures in a country that still struggles with a traditional corporate culture and societal attitudes.

So, how do you build a global culture of Diversity and Inclusion across 115 countries? And how do you achieve positive change in Japan?

On November 26, Claire Thomas, GSK Senior Vice President, spoke at a BCCJ event at the Shangri-La Hotel Tokyo, providing insights into the various issues influencing these important questions, and reflecting on what companies can do to create an inclusive organization in which all employees feel engaged and know their work makes an important contribution. She began with the message “action speaks louder than words” and named three core areas in which concrete steps have been taken at GSK, resulting in the successful and rapid advance of diversity and inclusion in the workforce.


Indeed, there has been an amazing breakthrough by GSK in Japan. 42% of GSK’s 100,000 employees are female and 45% of managers are women. “These numbers are improving every year at a rapid pace, but there is still a long way to go,” says Thomas. This is especially true in the manufacturing sector, a typically male-dominated domain, where it is proving a challenge to achieve the goal of 15% female employees.

Thomas says that only by “moving away from the evidence and data argument” and by taking active steps can change be achieved. She went on, “if women are unavailable in the area you need them, you have to find them”. GSK is now targeting women at junior level – through apprenticeships, at schools or universities, in order to encourage more women into manufacturing. The same applies at managerial level, said Thomas; “if you don’t have female talent, then you have to scour the market until you find the right candidate.” Working on future solutions is something she recommends for all leaders and managers.


Diversity takes many forms. 600 employees are currently participating in GSK’s skills-based volunteering initiative, PULSE. Thomas believes that offering career breaks – six months, fully paid – volunteering opportunities – not only creates positive changes to GSK communities around the world, but give employees an opportunity to share expertise, understand their partner organisations, and develop professional skills in challenging environments. In return, GSK partners benefit from strategic planning, operational improvements and enhanced communications. 


Thomas expressed her committment to ensuring that people with disabilities have career opportunities at GSK, bringing valuable talent and often untapped expertise to the business. Promoting the understanding of disability is a global focus for GSK. A Global Disability Council has been established to agree priority areas, set objectives and monitor progress. Efforts are also made to retain and support employees who become disabled while working at GSK. And so, there have been significant advances in including disabled employees in the workforce. Across the the UK, GSK has welcomed people with disabilities into their offices, conference centres, and gyms. In Japan, GSK is proud to welcome disabled who represent 2.4% of the workforce, including two Paralympians who are now working for the firm, resulting in an overall sense of pride, achievement, and ownership for the teams involved. 

Thomas continued the session by answering questions from the audience on practical steps that can be taken by companies in Japan to ensure change and increased diversity. Answers included: focusing on younger generations, promoting progressive thinking, proactively connecting with others, and taking passionate action. 

“The next generation expects it”

In a recent survey, the Guardian voted GSK the second-most popular company to work for – after Google. Thomas believes that for a company to function well, it must be diverse: “By ensuring that women are an integral part of the business, you are fully tapping your company’s talent and opening all doors.” 

GSK also hires 500 new graduates each year into a future leader programme, ensuring systematic development across various fields. Companies always have global connections at senior level, but it is now a priority to encourage the younger generations to be more connected to ensure the acceleration of diversity within the company.

Spurred on my PM Abe’s Womenomics agenda, Japanese companies have begun to show increased interest in the subject of diversity as a part of the human capital mix. There is a gradual recognition from stakeholders that advances in D&I are evidence of progression on many fronts – and a sign of growth and dynamism.

Hire modern-thinking managers

In response to a question about orientating existing managers to get onboard with D&I, Thomas agreed that this was often the hardest challenge and that is a matter of “deciding which levers to pull”. Changes must be made to make people more open-minded and leaders have such an important part to play in making the changes.

“HR can provide information and push, but D&I should not be led by HR” said Thomas. The message of diversity must be omnipresent throughout an organisation. The most decisive factor is that a company have not only intellectual intent, but show passionate sponsorship “from the heart”. She went on: “Neutrality is not an option. If you have aspirational goals and follow them passionately, the tipping point will naturally follow. Indeed, it is a very exciting time for GSK in Japan as the company has now reached this tipping point.” 

Localised D&I

For some cultures, the “affirmative action” approach historically adopted by American companies can have a compliance-risk feel to it which doesn’t necessarily work across all markets. In some markets, says Thomas, it is still of the utmost importance to enforce equal pay checks; in others the Code of Conduct must have a strong D&I message.

British companies respond well to a “more engaging and personal approach focusing on a talent agenda.” With this in mind, GSK conducts global surveys to ensure that D&I programmes are tailored to the needs of the culture.

Be flexible

Finally, Thomas called upon companies to become more open to creating difference scenarios at work, allowing employees to have “different scenes and chapters” in their working lives. “Diversity can only flourish when everyone has access to choices, opportunities, and flexibility.”

Thomas concluded by encouraging companies to support and build confidence among their employees. “Make changes, be open, be passionate and the hidden barriers that can hinder diversity can be recognised and overcome.”