Honda takes baby steps toward a diverse board

Honda Motor Co.'s belated moves to inject some diversity into its top ranks deserve two cheers.

Honda has named the first woman to its board, Hideko Kunii, a Japanese professor and software specialist who spent most of her career at copier- and printer-maker Ricoh Co. Pending approval, she will be the second director from outside Honda to serve on the current board.

The automaker also is promoting Issao Mizoguchi, a Brazilian of Japanese descent, to operating officer, one rung below the board. He has worked at Honda's Brazil operations since 1985 and will lead the company's South American business.

Honda deserves kudos for becoming the first Japanese automaker to appoint a woman to its board. But the company hasn't exactly distinguished itself for inclusiveness. These baby steps toward diversity in Honda's management may not be too late, but they're certainly too little.

Honda has always been more international in its operations than its peers. It began building cars in the United States in 1982, for example, six years before Toyota Motor Corp. opened its own U.S. car plant. A tour of duty overseas is practically a requirement for promotion to the top rungs at Honda. Today, 80 percent of Honda's global car and truck production is outside Japan. And 95 percent of Honda vehicles sold in North America are built there, while Toyota has struggled to top 80 percent.

Yet Toyota has had two non-Japanese on its board. Until now, Honda's board has remained the preserve of Japanese males. There are plenty of North Americans and Europeans who have spent their career with Honda and are fully immersed in its culture. Indeed, the United States, Canada and Mexico combined represent 41 percent of Honda's sales in 2013. But Honda hasn't chosen a North American for its board. The company should do more to embrace diversity at its highest levels.

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