Leadership: Women Empowerment – Risa Imai Cox: Diversity is a Strength


I have been with Kaizen Institute since 1996. My role has always been to set the foundation and environment of the company based on its values and beliefs to achieve sustainable success and the most desirable working place.

Was your work life ever affected by being a woman?

Yes, but nothing directed specifically towards me. There’s an old Japanese saying, “The woman should walk three steps behind her husband.” Before Kaizen Institute, I worked for a Japanese joint venture company. I was one of very few women in the workplace. At the time, I sadly saw it as a privilege. Now, I know a lot better; the gender balance was way off. The men in the office would often make inappropriate jokes in front of us, like stereotyping or generalizing. But Japan is different from other places. I am certain if you ask 100 women in Kaizen Institute this, we have 100 different stories.

What would you say to women in any workplace who are discriminated or challenged because of their gender?

If you let go of those incidents, nothing will change. Now is the time where the world is saying diversity is important. Use that and be encouraged to take some action. What’s right and wrong should be black and white. What’s wrong can be fixed. There are so many people and organizations behind you to make that happen. You are not alone in this!

Why is gender balance important for Kaizen Institute?

Kaizen Institute is a great example of using diversity as a strength. Our founder often used to say, “Kaizen Institute (KI) is the smallest global organization.” Our diversity comes mainly from cultures, languages, race and so on. This diversity has been our asset. Today, we know that there is a lot more to diversity, including gender balance. 

ESG (Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance) and SDGs (Sustainability Development Goals) are important not only to KI, but to all companies. We know KAIZEN™ is good and it helps businesses, but we must ensure that all our projects are ‘good’ and have a positive impact on people and the planet we live in. Gender balance, ESG, and SDGs are all good, just like KAIZEN™!

What is the state of gender balance in Kaizen Institute right now?

Today, we’re still not balanced, but I’m certain that all management within Kaizen Institute (KI) recognizes this issue as part of the ESG initiative and the communication from our DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) team is heard. The percentage of women within KI increased from 27% to 30%, from September 2021 to June 2022. This must reflect our efforts. Our number traditionally followed the education of industrial engineering, but we are fully aware that we can do better. Our gender balance in leadership and management level is something we carefully monitor, too. Our CEO, Antonio Costa, is a man, but he is 100% with me on this.

Is there anything you would like to say to women or men in Kaizen Institute?

For the men, embrace the status of lacking gender balance as an improvement point for Kaizen Institute. Look for the differences between your thoughts and actions versus your female colleagues. Understand those differences, then understand why diversity is good. If there are any negative comments or actions in the workplace, call them out and be an ambassador of diversity. 

Women, be encouraged! We must encourage each other. Speak to male colleagues so that they share the same gender balance values. Now is the perfect time to make a difference. The world is recognizing more and more the importance of gender balance and diversity. Have pride and demonstrate how diversity is good and we, women, can bring different dimensions to our group and our services. We can’t change the world in one day, but we can influence with our own behaviors and voices.

What are the next steps towards gender balance in Kaizen Institute? 

It’s important that we’re starting this effort in an organized, orchestrated way. Now awareness is here and we’re talking about it. The next step would be making gender balance a critical target and action for Kaizen Institute (KI). We should be able to do this well with our KAIZEN™ methodology and tools, just as we achieve strategic goals for our clients. Management and leaders must embrace diversity and place its priority as high as profit or growth and tackle it. 

KAIZEN™ is all about improvement. We encourage companies to benchmark their operations. I think we can do the same thing. We’re all different from family backgrounds to cultures to education. What you’re used to is different from someone else. So, let’s apply what we teach our clients. Use the world’s best as a benchmark and aim to gender balance being a norm within Kaizen Institute. We must aim to where we all embrace diversity. It’s a strength! It brings more perspectives and a wider range of thinking. Our reach would be larger, and our voice would be louder. 

A silo way of working will fail. Our organization must keep everyone working well together, to embrace diversity and generate better output. Our improvement must continue; it is what we do.


Kaizen Institute, Ltd.

HQ Global Operations – Zug, Switzerland


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