【TNF Journal】Business’s New Relationship with Disabilities (Part 25)The PwC Japan Group’s Efforts to Promote Inclusion and Diversity in Employment and Business to Create a More Inclusive Society

Staff from the PwC Japan Group meet with a member of the Nippon Foundation Working Group

Key Points in this Article

  • The PwC Japan Group supports athletes in developing both their sporting and professional careers.
  • The Group has also developed and launched a disability-focused project in which an employee with a disability serves as both a model case and a leader.
  • The Group aims to seize business opportunities and create a disability-inclusive society through both employment and product development.

Reporting: The Nippon Foundation Journal Editing Department

These days, diversity and inclusion (D&I)*1 is an indispensable factor for businesses to achieve continuous growth. Many people think of D&I initiatives as those focused on developing an organization that attracts and maintains a diverse workforce and helps each person fulfill their potential, including the empowerment of female employees and proactive employment of members of the LGBTQ+*2 and disabled communities. But D&I is also an important perspective for the creation of services and products. The market size, or purchasing power, of people with disabilities plus their friends and families is reportedly 13 trillion yen.

  1. Efforts to create a society where everyone can play an active role while respecting and recognising each other’s diverse characteristics, including race, ethnicity, gender, age and disability
  2. A general term for sexual minorities as well as an acronym that stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (a person who identifies as a gender other than that which they were assigned at birth), questioning (a person unsure of their own gender or the gender(s) they are attracted to) and other minority sexual orientations and gender identities.

With a global network of more than 295,000 people in 156 countries (as of 30 June 2022), PwC (external link) provides audit services, tax services, consulting services and more to help companies solve their business challenges.

The PwC Japan Group (external link), which consists of the PwC member firms* in Japan, supports clients in a wide range of industries by providing collaborative professional services across various areas. In recent years, the Group has been particularly stepping up its I&D initiatives, including developing new businesses focusing on disability.

  • * Independent corporate entities comprising the global network

Masako Okuhira, a member of the Nippon Foundation Working Group* interviewed Ms. Shoko Ito, as well as Mr. Yohei Kitazawa and Mr. Takaaki Kikuchi—both of whom have disabilities—from PwC Japan LLC.

  • * A working group engaged in research and planning at the Nippon Foundation, whose aim is to accelerate the active participation of people with disabilities in society

Supporting para-athletes in both their sporting and professional lives

Okuhira: I’m Masako Okuhira from the Nippon Foundation Working Group. Let me start by asking you why PwC uses the term “I&D” instead of “D&I”?

Ito: We changed the name of our initiative from D&I to I&D across the PwC global network because we think that inclusion is more important in terms of being able to demonstrate the innate power of diversity. We believe that there is no point in a situation where people with different values and skills are simply in the same place at the same time, and that it is crucial to develop an environment where people accept one another and can demonstrate their unique qualities and strengths.

Okuhira: I see. How then would you characterize the PwC Japan Group’s employment of people with disabilities?

Kikuchi: We are creating a workplace where employees with diverse disabilities can play active roles by taking advantage of what makes them unique. We introduced our Challenged Athlete Program, with the aim to employ and support para-athletes, in 2009. In 2016, we established our Office Support Team, comprising internal staff members with disabilities, to undertake tasks that can be outsourced from other teams. These are our two main focuses.

Since then, we have actively promoted the employment of workers with disabilities. Currently (as of June 2022), more than 110 people with disabilities, including 11 athletes, are working with us. I joined the company as a wheelchair basketball player in 2016 and have since been receiving support for my athletic career.

Mr. Kikuchi explaining the Challenged Athlete Program

Okuhira: Could you tell us more about the Challenged Athlete Program?

Kikuchi: It is very difficult for para-athletes to pursue their athletic careers while also working. This program provides employees of the PwC Japan Group with more opportunities to get to know people with disabilities and get involved with our activities. For example, we provide employees with opportunities to support athletes at competitions, work to develop an environment in which people with and without disabilities can work together, and promote understanding and raise awareness of I&D among individual employees.

Okuhira: Are there many opportunities for para-athletes and other employees to interact with each other directly?

Kikuchi: We interact with each other every day in the course of our business. We also have opportunities to meet people from various departments because we work in a free-address office. And we hold wheelchair basketball workshops for elementary and junior high school students, and also provide these workshops for our employees. Lots of employees participate in them with their children.

A wheelchair basketball workshop conducted at a junior high school as part of the Challenged Athlete Program

Okuhira: That’s great. I heard that the Challenged Athlete Program is also working on “dual career development,” which helps people to simultaneously develop two careers—sporting and professional. How do you do this, specifically?

Kikuchi: We put an emphasis on creating opportunities and spaces where para-athletes can be involved in both sports and business to ensure their long-term employment. In my case, for example, I spent roughly equal amounts of time on my athletic career and my work in my early days at the company. As I got older, the percentage of time I spent on work increased. Now, I am primarily building my professional career. The program allows individuals to shift from athletic activity to work according to their motivation and needs. People can also decide how they work, such as coming into the office just once a month or several days a week, by consulting with their supervisors in their department.

Okuhira: It’s great to be able to choose or change how you work according to your individual career or wishes. I heard that your company introduced remote work even before the COVID-19 pandemic. What was the reason for that?

Ito: It was based on our belief that offering options for diverse ways of working to employees with disabilities is hugely significant in terms of facilitating their fulfillment through work and occupational independence. We also want to offer employment opportunities to people with disabilities who had previously given up on working due to their environment—for example, because there were no jobs in the communities where they live—with the goal of contributing to regional revitalization.

Product development led by a person with a disability

Okuhira: Now, Mr. Kitazawa, could you describe your new project aimed at solving I&D challenges with digital technologies (the I&D project)?

Kitazawa: Yes. I have muscular dystrophy*. Having a severe disability, I served as the model for this I&D project, which aims to use digital technologies to solve challenges that people with disabilities encounter in our everyday lives and in society, and to create and commercialize products to improve the quality of our social lives.

  • * Generic term for genetic myopathies with the main pathology as necrosis and regeneration of muscle fibers. Muscular dystrophy is designated as an intractable disease by the Japanese government.
Mr. Kitazawa, who participated in the interview remotely, explaining the I&D project

Okuhira: What specific digital technologies are you using?

Ito: Currently, we are at the stage of researching candidate technologies, such as AI and VR, primarily through market surveys. Because the entire PwC Japan Group is actively pursuing the employment of people with disabilities, we are considering creating products related to career development and disability.

Okuhira: So it is under development. Could you tell us about the project members?

Ito: The project team comprises a total of nine members: five para-athletes, including Mr. Kitazawa and Mr. Kikuchi, and four people, including me, from the Global Innovation Factory, a team specializing in developing new products and business models. Mr. Kitazawa and Mr. Kikuchi play a variety of active roles, serving as project managers and acting as facilitators in developing ideas and at internal reporting sessions.

Ms. Ito explaining the I&D project

Okuhira: Have you had any issues or difficulties in carrying out the I&D project?

Kikuchi: We started the project in June 2021. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we have barely been able to meet in person. It took quite some time to understand each other and build relationships within the team.

Particularly, because those of us with disabilities have very different abilities and work-related needs, there were so many things that we couldn’t understand before meeting and talking in person. Even now, we are holding regular online meetings to better understand each other and work on product development.

A meeting of the I&D project team

Okuhira: I hope the world will soon settle down and you can meet in person without any discomfort. By the way, Mr. Kitazawa, have you experienced any changes through the launch of this project?

Kitazawa: As a powerchair football player, my life used to be centered on playing my sport. But I was delighted to be appointed as a leader of the I&D project, which has given me a chance to broaden my potential. I feel a greater sense of responsibility toward my job. I was feeling a bit negative due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so I am happy to have a new goal.

Mr. Kitazawa plays powerchair football while also working at the PwC Japan Group

Okuhira: How have other employees reacted?

Ito: After this project was featured in our internal communications channels, lots of people became interested in it. For me personally, because I work with Mr. Kitazawa and Mr. Kikuchi, over time I stopped thinking of them as “people with disabilities”, and I realized that that is what I&D is all about. That was a positive realization for me.

Okuhira: That’s wonderful. Now, Mr. Kitazawa, you are the linchpin of the I&D Project. Could you tell us about your future goals?

Kitazawa: Through this project, I would like to help build a society where anyone, whether disabled or not, can work and play an active role in a similar way.

New businesses born from disability

Okuhira: Ms. Ito, could you also tell us about your organization, the Global Innovation Factory that you mentioned before? I suppose developing new products is a big challenge for the PwC Japan Group, which has been engaged mainly in consulting and accounting audits. What was the background to this shift?

Ms. Okuhira asking about the initiatives of the Global Innovation Factory

Ito: The Global Innovation Factory was established to provide new value in addition to existing services in our increasingly digitized society. More specifically, the factory aims to collect and analyze feedback from clients of the firms within our Group, as well as needs in society, and then develop new products and services to respond to those needs. Through cooperation with start-ups, advanced companies, universities and NPOs inside and outside Japan, we have developed a tax return support tool, a platform for health promotion support and so on.

Okuhira: Do you find business potential in the area of disability, which the I&D project is focused on?

Ms. Ito: Well, it is a notable area even from a global perspective. In terms of business, the disability market segment is untapped, so there are ample business opportunities.
When we consider both people with disabilities and other related parties such as their families and friends, the market has tremendous potential. Therefore, we are conducting a broad investigation based on the assumption that end users will include people with disabilities and others around them.

Staff from the PwC Japan Group discuss business potential in the disability market segment

Okuhira: I, too, have always thought that the disability market segment offers business opportunities. It is a promising area. Personally, I think the PwC Japan Group might be able take advantage of its strengths by providing consulting services to other companies that are considering working in the disability segment.

Ito: Well, first of all, we would like to prove that it is possible to create an organization where anyone, whether disabled or not, can play an active role. To that end, it is crucial to make the I&D project a success and accumulate the results. We also aim to create a society where employing people with disabilities is something that is taken for granted and that every company does as a matter of course, so that eventually phrases like “employment of people with disabilities” will become outdated.

Okuhira: I have great hope that that will happen. Thank you very much for your time today.

Photo: Eizaburo Sogo