Toyota Hits Bumps on Road to Diversity

In June 2015, Toyota executive Julie Hamp was taken into custody by Japanese police on charges of illegally bringing a restricted painkiller into the country. The next day, Toyota president Akio Toyoda spoke up in support of Hamp, calling her a “’trusted and essential’” aide and defended her by saying that he was confident she had not broken the law intentionally. After the apprehension, Tokyo police raided Toyota Motor Corporation’s headquarters as well as its Tokyo and Nagoya offices as a result of Hamp’s arrest.

Julie Hamp, age 55, was recently appointed as Toyota’s Head of Public Relations and is its highest female executive ever. Her appointment was highlighted as a sign that Toyota was promoting diversity in a move to reflect its global reach and the fact that 80% of its sales stems from international, non-Japanese customers. However, some are worried that her arrest will be seen as a sign that promoting women in the workplace might be too risky. Diversity detractors commented against American Hamp’s and another Frenchman’s promotions into the Toyota executive roles. Toyota traditionally has only employed Japanese males in executive positions.

Hamp had previously worked for Toyota’s U.S. operations and was in the middle of moving her possessions to Japan when she was arrested. Prior to working for Toyota, she worked for PepsiCo Inc. for five years as well as General Motors Co. for 25 years. Hamp was not able to comment on the matter as in Japan, suspects can be kept in custody for up to 23 days even without a formal charge.

Toyoda shut down these concerns in a news conference the day after Hamp was arrested. "We will maintain this diversity promotion policy," he said, adding that he felt a personal bond of responsibility to Hamp because she was one of his direct reports. "All of them are like my children," Toyoda said of his executives. "Protecting the children is the responsibility of the parents. Ms. Hamp is a very important, trustworthy friend." He also hinted at the fact that Toyota might not have done enough to prepare Hamp for settling in Japan and adjusting to its rules. He ended by saying, "In addition to being a close friend of mine, Julie Hamp is an invaluable member of Toyota's team."

The day she was arrested, Japanese media reports cited police investigators as saying that a parcel addressed to Hamp and labeled "necklaces" contained 57 oxycodone pills buried at the bottom or in packets, as well as toy necklaces and pendants. A spokesman for the Tokyo police said the package was sent via international mail from the U.S. and was intercepted by customs agents at Tokyo's Narita Airport on June 11. Hamp told police she didn't think she had imported an illegal substance, the spokesman also said.

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