International Women’s Day 2024: Talking Inclusion & Diversity at Mercari

International Women’s Day is a holiday that is formally recognized by the UN and celebrated worldwide each year on March 8. It is a day to recognize the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. For this year’s International Women’s Day, the UN has set the theme as “Invest in women: Accelerate progress,” sharing a strong message that “Gender equality remains the greatest human rights challenge. Investing in women is a human rights imperative and cornerstone for building inclusive societies.”

At Mercari, we place Inclusion & Diversity (“I&D”) at the core of our business, and we share the same goal of building an inclusive society. Last year, as one of the efforts toward this goal, we started a project to look into and close the gender pay gap at our company. In addition to the gender pay gap, which shows the average difference in pay between men and women within an organization, Mercari also calculated for an “unexplained pay gap,” which is a gap not due to differences in things such as role, grade, or job type, in order to ascertain the situation of the gender pay gap at the company more accurately. Our analysis revealed a gender pay gap of 37.5% and an unexplained pay gap of 7%. In response, we took immediate action to close this gender pay gap, adjusting the individual compensation amounts of women employees to narrow the gap from 7% to 2.5%.

In celebration of this year’s International Women’s Day, Misaki Nakata of the Public Policy Team sat down for a conversation with Aiko Cho, manager of the I&D Team. Aiko’s team leads various initiatives to promote I&D at Mercari, including last year’s project to address the gender pay gap. Misaki spoke to Aiko about this project, as well as what the I&D Team is working on now and her vision for Mercari—we hope you enjoy!


Creating a fair and inclusive environment

Misaki Nakata of the Public Policy Team (“Misaki”): I understand that the role of your team—the I&D Team—is to lead Mercari’s efforts to build an inclusive society. To start things off, could you tell us a little bit more about what your team does?

Aiko Cho of the I&D Team (“Aiko”): Sure! The I&D Team’s mission is to create a fair and inclusive environment so that each and every member working at Mercari can unleash their full potential, regardless of their background.

Our main role and responsibility is to succeed in this team mission, but our team also plays an essential role in the entire Group attaining its own mission. That is because, at Mercari, we see I&D as an essential part in achieving our mission to “Circulate all forms of value to unleash the potential in all people.” In order to make this mission happen, our team comes up with strategies from the perspective of I&D and works together mainly with the HR Division to drive these strategies forward. Throughout this process, we also place a lot of importance on utilizing data. It is our job to monitor the entire HR process—from the moment someone joins the company all the way until they leave—for whether there is any form of discrimination or inequality occurring based on their background. If we happen to discover such cases, we make sure to find ways to address them.

Misaki: Speaking of data, this reminds me of your team’s recent efforts to close the gender pay gap at Mercari. Quantifying the gender gap with data is something that the UN has been emphasizing in recent years, so I think it’s amazing that Mercari was able to do so. Were there any moments where you found the use of data especially helpful?

Aiko: Discussions surrounding I&D-related topics can be difficult in the sense that each person’s values are different, and it can be hard to make progress. That’s when something objective like data comes in—it was important for us to present data to make the gender gap clear and get everyone on the same page for these discussions.

Misaki: As a Mercari employee myself, it’s comforting to know that there is a team like yours working so hard to create a fair workplace for us all. But in your eyes, what does it mean to create a fair and inclusive environment? What does that look like?

Aiko: To me, a fair and inclusive environment is one where employees of diverse backgrounds from all over the world can respect one another and elevate each other’s potential. In its management strategies, Mercari invests in people more than anything else. One of our five material topics is “Unleashing the Potential in Diverse Talent Worldwide,” and this mindset is at the very core of our human capital management.

Misaki: Interesting. I believe the I&D Team falls under the HR Division at many companies, but at Mercari, it is part of the Management Strategy Division. Is this part of the reason why?

Aiko: That’s right. At Mercari, we believe that all members should be respected as their own individual, regardless of their background. When looking at Europe and the US in particular, I&D is treated as more than just a business issue; it is seen as a human rights issue. Especially among the younger generation, I feel that there is less and less tolerance for unfair or unreasonable treatment and discrimination. If we create an unfair work environment, even if we are able to recruit diverse talent from around the world, we will not be able to retain such talent. Inclusion means not just accepting our differences but embracing and letting them shine. I want to make the most of Mercari’s diversity and create a culture where we are learning from our differences.

Misaki: I completely agree with your point about the younger generation. Gender itself is a construct created by society, so just like how norms change with each generation, I think it’s only natural for people’s ideas on gender and on what’s fair and not fair to also change with the times. I guess given the fact that each generation and individual will have their own understanding of these topics, the key is about how to communicate and find a common ground.


Fostering a culture of “meeting halfway” with Yasashii Communication

Misaki: Considering how Mercari has employees hailing from about 50 different countries, a topic that often comes up is how to make communication as low-context as possible. That is, speaking in ways that are straightforward and less dependent on context. Last December, your team established a new I&D statement and held a company-wide town hall to share it. Were the statement and the way it was announced also part of the effort to spread low-context communication?

Aiko: Definitely. Like I mentioned earlier, Mercari promotes I&D because we consider it essential to achieve our Group mission, which was updated on Mercari’s tenth anniversary in 2023. Given this new mission, we started talking about how to update our I&D strategies at the I&D Council (an internal forum for discussing I&D topics across Mercari) in FY2023 Q3, and these conversations led us to discuss again why we are promoting I&D in the first place.

After all of these discussions, what all of the council members agreed on was that Mercari continues to become more and more diverse, and in order for this diversity to be a strength that will drive us toward our new mission, we must place more emphasis on inclusion. And, what’s important to note here about inclusion is that it cannot be accomplished with just our team or those in management. It requires ownership from each employee, with everyone being mindful of inclusion in their day-to-day actions. Our previous statement was written with “Mercari” as the subject. However, in the new I&D statement, we changed the subject to everyone working at Mercari, including the leadership and employees, and shared this with the whole company at the town hall.

Misaki: I see! That is sure to cultivate a stronger sense of ownership. I also recall that the town hall was held with a mix of English and Japanese, which felt very new to me. Could you tell us about how that format came to be?

Aiko: That was a result of trying out different formats in the past. We didn’t feel it was very inclusive to decide a language and force people to speak in that language (whether it is English or Japanese). This time, we decided to allow the speakers to use whichever language they are more comfortable with. Although I think it made things pretty tough for the interpreters to keep switching back and forth. (laughs) 

Misaki: Similarly, Mercari does not have one official language. I really like the mindset of Yasashii communication (“yasashii” is the Japanese word for “easy and kind”) where members are encouraged to communicate in a way that is easy to understand for everyone, including non-native speakers. Japanese speakers are encouraged to use “Yasashii Nihongo” and English speakers “Yasashii Eigo” to foster a culture of meeting halfway. Also, because this town hall was a mix of English and Japanese, it required speakers of both languages to listen to interpretation. I felt that it was a good opportunity for more people on both sides to better understand the experience of listening to interpretation.

Aiko: That’s exactly the kind of intentions we had in mind, so I’m glad that came across! We definitely thought about the Yasashii communication concept of meeting halfway, and we tried to find a way to work it into the event.


Addressing the gender pay gap to continue to be a company where diverse talent want to work

Misaki: Next, I’d like to ask you more about Mercari’s actions to address the gender pay gap. In general, I think people viewed it as an initiative to correct disparities, but was there an element of investing in people, which you mentioned earlier?

Aiko: We thought about these actions mainly from two points of view. The first is fairness. This is a part of what I said earlier of the I&D Team’s work—if we discover any form of inequality during the HR process, we take action to address it. In terms of this project, we wanted to make sure that we are not reproducing disparities that already exist in our society at large. Therefore, we made a commitment that, if an employee brings in a gender pay gap from their previous employer, Mercari will fill this gap.

The second is a long-term investment so that Mercari continues to be a workplace that diverse talent want to work at in the future. And, these two points are not mutually exclusive; I think that they’re actually very closely related.

Misaki: Even for members who are working at Mercari now, I think this initiative to close the gender pay gap was received very well. I see it as an investment not only to acquire future talent, but also to retain current employees.

Aiko: Yes, I agree. Exactly to your point, we actually saw higher satisfaction levels toward our evaluation and compensation process among both men and women. I'm looking forward to seeing how this initiative will help enhance employee engagement and make people want to continue working at Mercari.

Source: FY2023.6 Impact Report

Misaki: This project to address the gender pay gap was a big focus for the I&D Team last year, but what does your team have in store going forward? Is there any area that you especially want to tackle next?

Aiko: Going forward, our team will continue to tackle any and all initiatives that are necessary to achieve the Group mission from an I&D perspective. However, if I were to name one in particular, it is the gender gap at large. There are still various different aspects to the gender gap that we must work to resolve.

It can be difficult for women to work and thrive at Japanese companies, and this is strongly tied to Japan’s history and social norms. These norms date back generations and cannot be changed right away; it will require long-term commitments. With that said, we can’t be waiting decades to increase the percentage of women employees at our company. If we don’t see the societal changes that we wish to see happening, we must shift gears and start by making the changes at our own company. That is our mindset, and our team is discussing with various HR teams to ascertain the current situation and promote I&D initiatives within our organization. These discussions range from our recruitment process to our employee evaluation system, and we are taking action to implement any changes that need to be made.

Misaki: If there is a lower percentage of women employees at a company, I imagine that would have some impact on their work or performance, wouldn’t it? For example, if there are not many women in important positions, women may be seen as better suited for support roles instead of leadership roles. Or, if there is one woman in a room full of men, the woman might feel hesitant to speak up.

Aiko: Yes, and the thing is, these kinds of actions and thought processes happen unconsciously. I don’t think anyone at Mercari would knowingly treat someone unfairly just because they feel like it. But, let’s say for example, there is someone on your team with kids. Without even realizing it, you might be assigning the important tasks to other members, assuming that this member is too busy with their kids. We must all be mindful of these unconscious biases, in order to make sure that we are not limiting people’s opportunities.


Holding a shared goal of bridging the gender gap and building a fairer society

Misaki: Before we end, I’d also like to ask you about your recent talks with the government. I heard that you were asked by the government to speak with them about promoting diversity management and recruiting highly-skilled foreign professionals at Mercari. In speaking with them, was there anything in particular that you noticed or learned?

Aiko: Yes, absolutely. In promoting I&D at Mercari, I refer to government websites and documents that outline their policies and regulations whenever I have the chance. Up until now, I viewed the relationship between the government and corporations to be a one-sided one, where the government makes decisions and establishes rules that companies will follow. However, when I was provided this opportunity to actually speak with people in the government, I saw that I was completely wrong—it was not one-sided at all. I was thrilled to see how much research they do on what companies are doing for I&D, as well as their passion and curiosity to learn more.

Misaki: As a member of the Public Policy Team, that makes me so happy to hear!

Aiko: I also saw how the government representative that I spoke to was working on these issues with a great sense of crisis and urgency, which was another big takeaway for me. From that day, I started to see greater possibilities for working on I&D with the government. Changes that would be difficult for Mercari to make as just one company seemed more doable. If we companies can continue sharing with the government the issues and challenges that we are facing, I think we can work together to resolve these issues and make our society more inclusive.

Misaki: That’s exciting to think about. Our team will also do our best to support these efforts to promote I&D together as one society. Going forward, are there any specific things that you would like to work on with the government?

Aiko: With regard to disclosing and correcting the gender pay gap, there are many different ways to run regression analyses and identify the reasons behind the gap. Because of this, if different companies start performing these analyses in the future, I have concerns that it will be difficult to compare the results across companies. In order to avoid this issue, what I’m picturing is something like in Europe, for instance, where some governments offer a tool that makes it easy for companies to run their regression analyses. This tool introduces a standardized index, which is necessary for companies to analyze the gap and compare their results with others’.

Misaki: That’s a good point, as it seems challenging and time-consuming to come up with a proper index for analysis. I’ve heard other companies asking to reference Mercari’s method as well. If there is one standardized index for everyone to use, that would get rid of this challenge, and companies can use those time and resources to analyze the results and consider corrective actions instead.

Aiko: Exactly, the focus of our time and resources should really be on planning and discussing the corrective actions. These big changes take time, though, so I would like to continue communicating regularly with the government and exchange ideas to close the gender gap together.



Aiko Cho

Manager of I&D Team at Mercari / Member of #z-kamakura (company Kamakura club) 

After graduating from a music college, Aiko worked as a television news reporter and on the sales team of a global medical device company, before joining Recruit Co., Ltd. She spent a total of 12 years at Recruit, working in sales, HR, and workstyle reform. After her time at Recruit, Aiko took a break for two years and joined Mercari in May of 2021. At Mercari, she established the Talent Management Team before moving to her current role as manager of the I&D Team.



Misaki Nakata

Public Policy Team at Mercari

After completing her master’s at Osaka University, Misaki worked as a social welfare officer for the Nishinomiya City Government. During part of her time there, she was also seconded to the Cabinet Office of the Government of Japan, where she was in charge of communication and coordination to ease regulations. Later, she spent time at a UN entity in Africa and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, among other organizations, as a gender expert. Misaki joined Mercari in October 2023 as a member of the Public Policy Team.