Dr. Jackie F. Steele: Redefining DEI Business Strategy as Diversity & Equity for Innovation

Today, people need new ways to think and talk about diversity. Business leaders need to learn new skills to enable equity and inclusion in the workplace. Organizations need to adopt scalable and innovative ways that are solid and sustainable to ensure that their diversity and inclusion initiatives avoid common mistakes. Impactful leadership is not only when you make long-lasting contributions to an organization, but ultimately to its people. One such DEI entrepreneur who has impactful leadership skills and is making a difference in the world is Dr. Jackie F. Steele, Founder, and CEO of enjoi Japan K.K. enjoi brings DEI business strategy to corporate leaders through experiential workshops, executive education, and change management consulting designed to shift leadership mindset towards evidence-based action and measurable performance.

Dr. Steele is a political scientist and specialist in parliamentary governance, public policy, gender equality, and diversity integration strategies. For over 20 years, she has guided political leaders, policymakers, and civil society organizations in programming ‘inclusive innovation’ and ‘intersectional thinking’ into the core of democratic governance, people ecosystems, and organizational culture.

Dr. Jackie F. Steele, Political Scientist, and CEO & Founder, enjoi Japan

The Inception Story

Prior to founding enjoi Japan, Dr. Steele spent six years as an associate professor at the University of Tokyo, and later at Nagoya University Graduate Law School. She started joining practitioner-focussed D&I conversations and it became apparent that leaders in corporate Japan were struggling to frame how diversity and inclusion (D&I) related to their structures and culture. “I retired from academia and launched as a DEI (diversity-equity-innovation) educator and entrepreneur to be a bridge sharing political science and public policy expertise on diversity and equity with senior leaders tackling these thorny issues in both public and private sectors,” says Dr. Steele. It is an unusual profile within the DEI consulting space, but one that can add diversity of thought into what is often an overly narrow HR-led, a corporate-centric lens that is in great need of a more holistic, whole-of-society and ecosystem design approach.

Dr. Steele believes that there is a vast difference between the cultures and goals of higher education vs. the c-suite, which is often now too narrowly focussed on the short-term. Trained in the history of ideas and political theories of freedom and equality, Dr. Steele is sharing the best of Canadian-inspired practitioner and international public policy approaches to enrich the DEI conversation in Japan. Rather than an “HR problem”, she believes that the tools provided by her company can inspire leaders to embrace Diversity-Equity-Innovation as a business strategy that benefits all stakeholders. At enjoi Japan, we believe that “diversity rocks”. To do so, diversity must be combined with contexts of equality, reciprocity, and psychological safety. The name enjoi is a play on the word enjoy and two Japanese kanji symbolizing relations of trust(縁) and differences(異). The corporate philosophy, 「ご縁を育み、差異をたのしむ」affirms: ‘We enjoy building solidarity across diversities.’ and this is the essence of enjoi’s work in Japan.

Dr. Steele is still learning how to be a business-savvy entrepreneur, as she strives to combine feminist commitments to equality and social justice with a for-profit business model. She has forged many connections and built a thought partner community of over 100 leaders across corporate, non-profit, and academic communities in Japan and Asia-Pacific. She has found it exciting to build a holistic set of services and DEI learning journeys that can foster better results and more corporate accountability. She is passionate about showcasing how leaders in Japan can and must leverage diversity and equity for innovation. Rather than the abstract concept of ‘I’ as inclusion, she says, “The end goal of enjoi’s ‘I’ is to see DEI drive measurable innovation for the bottom line and intersectional equity for people happiness.DEI business strategy is good for people, profits, and the planet when done with an evidence-based strategy, multi-stakeholder engagement, and when spearheaded by leaders who believe in genuine legacy and personal accountability. Everyone wins.”

The political scientist-turned-entrepreneur was discouraged by the one-off, single topic, and often cosmetic ‘diversity workshops’ typically sourced by HR leaders under pressure to tick a box and be “done”. These Band-Aid trainings focus on individual employee mindset, not the corporate ecosystem that senior leaders must commit to evolving. She has developed a new model for DEI eco-system assessments so that leaders can see the evidence and know their starting line. enjoi Japan looks at employee demographics assessments, corporate employment benefits, HR practices, rewards policies, and through to talent recruitment, retention and promotions processes, and corporate board diversification. By educating leaders as to why diversity, equity, and innovation (DEI) is a business strategy, leaders are invited to reframe how to use DEI for long-term strategic gains in a competitive edge and employer branding. This holistic set of data reveals the opportunities, risks, and multiple levers for gradual transformation through a rational strategy that is built around each company’s specific context.

enjoi Japan’s approach to executive education likewise uncovers existing blind spots in leaders’ thinking. By training them in leading approaches, leaders become empowered to grow their emotional intelligence, see the business value of building equitable relationships, and start intentionally curating a diversity-positive culture to drive innovation. Dr. Steele believes we must all start playing the long game of corporate innovation for economic sustainability. We must remember why we choose democratic self-government, why a free market economy is helpful for humanity, and what kind of innovation delivers abundance for the vast majority, not simply for the 1%. She notes, “We are talking about investing in the equal enjoyment of dignity for all groups and all bodies, we are talking about unleashing the industrious expression of free will, and we are talking about investing in co-creative adaptation and a kind of fated togetherness that requires human diversity and biocultural diversity on earth.” enjoi offers foundational workshops in Japanese and English to drive leadership mindset shift towards evidence-based DEI as a rational and necessary business strategy. In an era when the global talent war will only intensify, notably in Japan where the population is set to shrink by 12% in the next 20 years, equitable and happy workplaces will attract and retain the best diverse talent and reap the rewards of sustainable innovation: 

Diversity & Equity for Innovation: Mapping from Selves to People Systems introduces Dr. Steele’s signature teachings on Intersectional Thinking©, an international tool that allows leadership teams to take stock of their diverse affinities, individual superpowers, and their various systemic blind spots in relating to others. 

Emotionally Intelligent Leadership leverages the internationally renowned EQi-2.0 Assessment developed by Dr. Steele’s thought partner, Dr. Steven Stein. It focuses on building EQ leadership competencies across five core areas needed for all senior roles now, and for the future of work in Japan’s Society 5.0.

Moving beyond employee engagement surveys and voluntaristic corporate indexes as the “report card” on effective DEI, Dr. Steele has invested her academic training in law and policy to create a holistic assessment methodology that combines qualitative and quantitative corporate demographic data, internationally leading assessment tools like Attuned (intrinsic motivation) and EQi 2.0 (EQ leadership), and qualitative interviews with corporate stakeholders across the business.

Intersectionality Workshop - APAC Magazine

This leads to a clear portrait of what is going well, what toxins are left unchecked (conformism, group-think, power harassment, needless hierarchy, lack of psychological safety, risk-aversion, low individual expression, lack of critical thinking) are in the system.

Meaningful data also reveals the low-hanging fruit and where there is positive, strategic leverage to be gained for equity and innovation. From there, companies can set nuanced mid-to-long-term goals and faithfully begin tracking and measuring their progress across multiple indicators, data points, and KPIs. This holistic approach to evidence-based DEI empowers enjoi’s clients with bespoke change management solutions and support on implementation, measurement, and reporting over a one to two-year period. Dr. Steele observes, “Change must be curated gently to give people’s hearts and minds a chance to engage with new possibilities, to see the value it brings them individually and to their colleagues, to be inspired to action, and then to willingly support the change from within. We are talking about nurturing a mini social movement for diversity, equity, and innovation; if political philosophy teaches us anything, it is that grassroots culture change that deepens democratic equality across an ecosystem is a labor of love that takes time, conviction, and courage.”

Leading Through Challenges

According to Dr. Steele, Japan can be a tough market due to the chronic under-investment in social equality and respect for diversity on the public policy side. Many toxic stereotypes about gender, race, sexual orientation, and disability go unchallenged within elite Japanese political circles. This directly affects corporate leaders and can blind them to the opportunities for corporate innovation and competitive edge that come from investing in diversity and equity. She says finding clients who are keen to make rational investments in innovation-centered change management is sometimes challenging. But more and more companies are reaching out and want to move beyond business as usual; that approach has reached its limit for companies competing globally. Launching amidst a global pandemic also created unforeseen hurdles. Dr. Steele took the time to invest in her team so they could co-create and be ready for the next steps once the market bounced back. She also invested in her own learning as an entrepreneur. “Thanks to the generous mentoring and guidance from ImpacTech, Nippon Foundation, and the Social Innovation and Investment Foundation, I feel more prepared to plan a first angel investor fundraise to support key investments in exciting international projects unfolding with partners in Canada and the US.

“All these human pursuits are ethically beholden to the same core democratic commitments: maximize equality, freedom, and creative invention of self/other along our collective journey in togetherness on earth.”

A Take on Impactful Leadership: Lessons from Thriving, Resilient Households

Dr. Steele believes that a good leader must maintain a strong vision of the company’s goals while staying agile and open to change and the cross-pollination of ideas shared by trusted team-mates. Resilient leaders are able to navigate the many hurdles that entrepreneurship entails, from maintaining cash flow and the bottom line, upholding personal ethics and passionate vision, and remaining grounded in the “why” driving their company’s impact in building a better future. “It is a mental and also an emotional juggling act. Dr. Steele says, “Getting beautiful hugs and kisses from my children is essential nourishment for the soul, as are the amazing meals that my life partner makes for our family every single day. My efforts to build enjoi Japan into a feminist enterprise are also inspired by how our family of four unique individualities strives to learn from each other, contribute our talents, share in responsibilities, honour each other’s needs, and enjoy playing together along this life journey.” Be it mothering/parenting, nation-building, or responsible business, Dr. Steele suggests that “all these human pursuits are ethically beholden to the same core democratic commitments: maximize equality, freedom, and creative invention of self/other along our collective journey in togetherness on earth.”

“We need to learn directly from other positive social impact leaders and outside-the-box feminist business pioneers (of any gender) who intentionally share power with others.”

When asked about leadership, Dr. Steele suggests that great leaders have the humility to surround themselves with diverse thinkers and doers from whom they can learn. To succeed, they will need their teammate’s strengths and unique perspectives to reduce their own blind spots in the planning and execution of the company’s mission. In her advice to budding entrepreneurs, Dr. Steele says, “Build a personal support network of thought partners who enrich your exposure to a diversity of thoughts and worldviews…and also find a few trusted business mentors who you admire. Dr. Steele notes, “We need to learn directly from other positive social impact leaders and outside-the-box feminist business pioneers (of any gender) who intentionally share power with others”. We need to hear from the down-to-earth leaders who are willing to talk about their failures, and who candidly share the nitty-gritty of how to build a first successful fundraise. Dr. Steele asserts that “those relationships of trust are what yield pragmatic, tailored advice on how to overcome the unique hurdles on your entrepreneurial journey, not the over-hyped macho unicorn stories. More than any MBA degree, it is these precious colleagues and trusted peers who will be your safety net.”

Partners for Change: Disrupting the Man-Box

With enjoi’s upcoming program, Wolfpack, Dr. Steele aims to create a safe and brave space that empowers men in corporate leadership roles to deepen their understanding of DEI business strategy, EQ leadership, and global competitiveness. This is the only program in Japan focusing on men as change agents building intersectional equity and inclusive innovation. She says, “Overwhelmingly companies keep trying to “fix” women to survive in toxic, hierarchical corporate environments. We want to multiply the number of leaders of all genders to adopt critical tools that disrupt group-think and will intentionally invest in workplace equity.” There is strong peer pressure to fit into the “corporate warrior” identity and salary man model. Many men are unable to voice their desire for time off with family, they feel shy to ask that their legal right to paternity leave be respected, and they are often disempowered by workaholic norms upheld by senior men and women in the organization. Surveys show that younger generations of men alsowant flexible working styles. Yet in corporate Japan, flex-time and telework have become stigmatized as “initiatives for women”, making it hard for engaged fathers, elder-caregivers, and those simply wanting work-life balance to articulate their preferences. They are worried about being passed over for promotions if they assert their individuality. Most DEI initiatives in Japan fail to even acknowledge men’s tremendous differences and their diverse needs.

Dr. Steele suggests that senior and mid-career men with DEI leadership competency would be uniquely situated to drive change towards greater equality and innovation in their companies. When there is senior-level buy-in, Japanese companies are often better at collectively pivoting together and much faster at ramping up than their multinational competitors. “Wolfpack participants will gain critical thinking skills, new approaches, and practical frameworks for integrating and role modeling equitable leadership.” Dr. Steele is so pleased to partner with a friend and enjoi educator Shu Matsuo Post, an inspiring young Japanese leader and equality advocate. They have invited a dynamic list of guest speakers from Japan and around the world to inspire the selected 25 men to seek greater freedom, opportunity, and fulfilment in their lives. Participants will enjoy bi-weekly experiential learning sessions spread over 6 months, and including an engaging, off-site weekend of fun at the enjoi DEI Training space in northern Nagano. Men also hold up half the sky. “We are excited to support these aspiring DEI leaders in unlearning toxic stereotypes that harm men as well. We see great value in investing in their empowerment so they can speak confidently about best in class strategies and approaches for powering up inclusive innovation through diversity-positive corporate cultures.”

The company opened a DEI Training Space for diversity workshops and corporate off-sites and retreats in Dr. Steele’s hometown of 20 years in Chikuma City, Nagano. “Long term, I aspire to offer a DEI Leadership Certification in Japanese and English, to deliver a university calibre, research-supported, and business/practitioner-focused program that supplies holistically educated DEI practitioners to the Japanese market.  Blending insights and interdisciplinary approaches from academic theories, law and policy research, social justice movements, and business management techniques, This new “train-the-trainer” model will fill a pressing need in the Japanese market to ensure that executive, C-suite, HR, and DEI leads have rigorous holistic training and education inequitable organizational design and impactful, evidence-based DEI change management,” concludes Dr. Steele.

Testimonials (Business Partners in Canada and Japan, and/or enjoi team-mate)

“Jackie is one of the most credentialed DEI experts in Japan. Added on to those top-tier credentials are her articulateness, her big-heartedness, startup nous, entrepreneurial spirit, trustworthiness, and overall humanity make her a unicorn. She has a unique perspective and credible position from which to advocate, on the intersection of innovation with diversity and equity. It’s for these reasons and more we’ve partnered with her at Attuned, and also our sister company Wahl + Case, to work with large Japanese enterprises to help them on their journeys towards equity while becoming more innovative. It is a pleasure to work closely with Jackie, her successes are our successes, and her inspiration keeps us striving.”

– Casey Wahl, CEO, Wahl and Case Nippon / EQIQ 

“Dr. Steele’s approach to developing emotionally-intelligent leaders in Japan is unique and exceptional in so many different ways. As far as I am aware, enjoi K.K. is the only company in Japan that transforms/translates the academic tools of social sciences into effective business strategies through the scope of Diversity, Equity, and Innovation (DEI) coupled with the element of Emotional Intelligence (EI). As a Japanese national specializing in public policy research at the University of Toronto, I find her approach extremely practical and valuable, especially in today’s highly globalized world. Dr. Steele is passionately devoted to cultivating potentials in the Japanese market; it is an absolute pleasure working alongside her and learning about the steps we can take to co-create a better tomorrow,” 

– Mari Isogai, enjoi Educator & Canadian Business Partner.

“Our society needs leaders like Jackie to drive DEI initiatives in business. Promoting DEI in the workforce is no longer a nice-to-have – it’s a requirement for every organization in order to thrive in today’s ever-changing economy. I’m proud to be an educator supporting enjoi Japan in bringing DEI business strategy to corporate leaders through experiential workshops and consulting designed to shift mindset and initiate evidence-based action,” 

– Shu Matsuo Post, enjoi educator, and Wolfpack co-Facilitator.