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Kento Hoshi dreamed of changing society through entrepreneurship since his childhood in Japan, before he even knew he was gay. But as he began to navigate his identity and witnessed how the world treated people like him, that ambition became a mission of necessity.
Hoshi, 28, is the founder of JobRainbow, Japan’s first job search platform for LGBTQ people. Six years after its launch, the website now serves 650,000 monthly active users and is partnered with 400 companies, including global companies such as Salesforce, Microsoft and Morgan Stanley.
“When diverse people cannot reach their full potential, it’s a great loss to our society,” Hoshi said. “So I thought it would be a win-win for LGBTQ people and for society if I could be a bridge between them.”
For university students in Japan, the job search usually begins around the third year of school. Applicants must circle their gender on their CV – with only male and female options – and attach a photo of themselves, which could make some LGBTQ job seekers vulnerable to hiring discrimination.
Hoshi recalled one of her closest friends in college expressing how happy she was in life for the first time, now that she had finally come out as transgender. Yet when her job search began, she found it difficult to apply to companies because she didn’t know what gender was safe to surround.
“There was one company she thought would be good to hang out with during the interview,” Hoshi said. “However, the interviewer told him, ‘We don’t have anyone like you in our company, so we can’t accept you. “”
His friend quit the interview and eventually withdrew from college as well, Hoshi said. Pained by his inability to help when such situations arose, he said, he began to think about how to create a startup that could meet this challenge.
JobRainbow connects its users with suitable employers by asking them questions such as who, if anyone, they would like to hang out at at work and which bathroom they would feel comfortable in.
Companies wishing to hire through the platform can also request consultations on how to create a more welcoming work environment, as well as training aimed at encouraging job retention.
In Japan, Hoshi said, 40% of lesbian, gay and bisexual workers and 70% of transgender workers say they encounter difficulties in their job search. Meanwhile, the country faces falling birth rates and a shrinking labor force.
That’s why Hoshi believes fostering inclusivity in the workplace not only helps job seekers feel comfortable being themselves, but will inevitably benefit society as a whole. As well as pushing employers to invest in more talent, he hopes to do his part in building a world free of the stigma he grew up with.
As he discovered his sexuality in college, LGBTQ comedians were gaining popularity on television. Hoshi said that while he really enjoyed watching them, he could tell that others thought of them as odd characters — as people to laugh with, not people. He said his classmates bullied him for his interest in these shows, calling it insults.
He was, at the time, also involved in a kendo martial arts club. When he confided in older students about his bullying experiences, Hoshi said, he was told it was because he acted too feminine. So, to “recycle” him, they beat him daily with bamboo sticks until one day he missed class – still in his kendo gear – and stopped showing up at school.
“But the most painful thing was being at home. When we were watching TV, LGBT talent appeared on the screen. When my parents saw that, they said, “I hope Kento doesn’t become like that,” he recalls. “When I heard that I was really hurt and thought, ‘I can’t even tell my own family I’m gay’.”
Devoid of refuge both at school and at home, Hoshi found refuge in an internet cafe in Tokyo. He went there every day instead of going to school, making friends through online games.
When he finally worked up the courage to date one of his best friends online, he said that friend simply replied, “You are you.” They continued to play together and, to Hoshi’s surprise, it seemed like nothing had changed.
“That’s how I realized that even if you feel there’s no place for you in a [kendo] class of 40, there are people around the world looking for you,” Hoshi said. “It was a big turning point in how I gained resilience.”
Fast forward about a decade, and Hoshi, who now had a boyfriend, came out to her parents at age 22. He said they didn’t say much more than “OK”. But a few years later, his father opened up about how he regretted the comments he used to make about being gay. Her father cried as they hugged, Hoshi recalled.
Today, Hoshi, fulfilling his childhood dream of being an entrepreneur, aims to expand JobRainbow’s services beyond Japan. Discrimination against LGBTQ job applicants continues to permeate workplaces around the world, he said, and he hopes JobRainbow can help change the conservative Asian promotion culture. of diversity and inclusion.
But there’s still plenty of work to do at home, Hoshi said. JobRainbow strives to help not only LGBTQ job seekers, but also people from other marginalized backgrounds, such as people with disabilities. Although Japan is known for its innovation, its exclusionary work culture — like that of many other countries — can be detrimental to many job seekers, he said.
“Japanese companies have been delayed for maybe 30 years because we don’t really have D&I,” Hoshi said. “I believe that inculcating the values of diversity and inclusion in Japanese companies is a key driver for improving our economy and, also, we can make a lot of people happy.”
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