Opening up conversations on DEI – TH Peace Pirates

16 September 2021

Opening up conversations on DEI – TH Peace Pirates

The Peace Pirates are a group of staff within TBWA\HAKUHODO, who are passionate about DEI (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion) and have voluntarily got together across functions and layers. Their mission is to develop a culture of understanding and discourse surrounding DEI topics. We have already introduced both Gender Week and Pride Month events produced by the Peace Pirates here in STORIES, to positive reception.
The Peace Pirates ship has just begun to sail, so watch this space!

In today’s STORIES we will be interviewing the founding member and leader of the Peace Pirates, Eric Ellefsen.


Q. Please tell us a little bit about yourself.

I was born to a Norwegian father and Japanese mother, and after graduating from university I worked in a Japan-based NGO called Peace Boat for 12 years. I joined TBWA\HAKUHODO six years ago and I am currently the director of our Transcreation (interpreting and translation) team.
We make a point of calling ourselves the “Transcreation team” here at TBWA\HAKUHODO, because the talent we want to develop is adept inter-cultural communication. Oftentimes if things are translated literally they lose a lot of meaning and can even cause misunderstanding. Our job is to ensure that our client presentations and ad copies are perfectly workable and attractive in both Japanese and English. As transcreators we must be aware of the needs of a particular situation and to ensure sensitivity toward all parties involved, so that we can facilitate a win-win outcome for all. We have to constantly look at both languages from the perspective of culture and learn not to be led by “the words” of a language, but rather the meaning and its essence.

Opening up conversations on DEI – TH Peace Pirates

Q. Tell us more about the Peace Pirates.

We aren’t an official department, and we comprise about 20 members who have come together voluntarily. We have people from all different sections and layers of the agency and I think we’re closer to something like a sports team in nature more than anything else!
Our goal is to raise awareness toward DEI issues within the agency and to create an atmosphere of open dialogue. This can mean events to help stimulate/promote thinking or reviewing/changing some of the internal rules or practices we may have to better reflect DEI needs.

Q. How did the Peace Pirates begin?

TBWA\HAKUHODO has “workplace” by Facebook deployed as one method for employees to communicate their personal thoughts and perspectives to each other. I started posting random thoughts and perspectives on workplace about 3 years ago, and they included my thoughts on ads I was seeing, the gender issues in Japan, the indigenous population of Japan, LGBTQAI+ issues, etc… and I noticed that a number of my colleagues were really responding to the content and were looking forward to my posts.

Opening up conversations on DEI – TH Peace Pirates

I think perhaps owing to this, I was approached by the Communication team of TBWA Asia Pacific with the chance to write an opinion piece in Campaign Asia and Campaign Japan to coincide with International Women’s Day in 2019.
The theme of my piece on Campaign was the dearth of variety/diversity afforded to the modern Japanese female consumer in terms of identity, and how advertising is key to help expand those options. The article struck a chord with a number of key players in the agency, and this led to a number of meaningful conversations between them and me. The first participants of these conversations went on to become the founding members of the Peace Pirates.
Basically, the article (and subsequent conversation) lit a fire in us, and we thought “Hey! Shall we start a group that can raise awareness about DEI topics internally? What can we do to contribute?”

Timing-wise, it coincided with TBWA Global formally expressing its unwavering stance in support of BLM. TBWA Global was also urging the regions to step up their respective DEI “game”. So it was a great convergence between our grass-roots birth and global urgency.

Q. Where did the name Peace Pirates come from?

During our first meetings when we were still a very small group, we were exploring what an all-encompassing term or concept for DEI was. Someone had the idea of “Peace”. You know, a world where everyone is accepted for who they are without fear of persecution or discrimination… a world where understanding wins over judgment… a world of peace! So there we had it! The Peace Pirates! (“Pirates” is how TBWA refers to its staff) Other members would mention the fact that I worked at Peace Boat before, but that is a mere coincidence! But a lovely one at that I might add.

Q. What activities have you done so far?

We spent the first few months holding monthly get-togethers to share our own personal thoughts on DEI and what it means to us, and what we think it means for society and our industry. So initially we spent quite a bit of time building up our own identity through these get-togethers. As you can imagine we are all very busy with our respective jobs so once a month was the most practical frequency in which to get together.
From the second half of 2020, we started having regular conversations with TBWA\HAKUHODO management, who showed great support for what the Peace Pirates wanted to do. We made an official debut announcement to the entire agency at the first all-agency meeting in 2021, and from there we started designing some bigger all-agency events.

Q. What was your first undertaking after the “debut”?

Opening up conversations on DEI – TH Peace Pirates

We leveraged International Women’s Day in late March to hold a “Gender Week” series of online events. The week consisted of a number of “Disruptor Series” talks from invited guests who are disrupting the gender arena and a collaborative event with the Career Women’s Institute at Hakuhodo along with daily gender-themed e-letters sent to the whole agency. I’m very happy to say that we received very good feedback.
With Japan being the 121st place in the Global Gender Gap Index, the Peace Pirates understand that the lack of gender equality is a burning issue in Japan, and we will continue to place great importance on this theme.
I’d also like to add that personally, the most inspiring Disruptor Series session during Gender Week was by “The Parity Academy”, an organization established by two university professors to promote the participation of young women in politics.

For the month of June, we held “Pride Month” where we also invited many guest speakers and also held a session on Pride-related literature with TBWA\HAKUHODO’s resident book club, TH Library. Compared to Gender Week, Pride Month had an even wider array of sessions with varying formats, and we’re happy to say the feedback has been great. It proved meaningful and thought-provoking for our staff.

Q. What else do you do apart from large-scale events?

Opening up conversations on DEI – TH Peace Pirates

We hold a monthly “UnLabeling Salon”, where a small group of us get together and analyze pieces of media from a DEI perspective. The session is transcribed into a report format which is then shared with the whole agency.
Also, on World Menstrual Health Day, we held a special online event between two junior female staff and our CEO (who at the beginning of his career as AE was assigned to work with major menstrual hygiene brands). The event was a casual chat between them, answering questions and comments from a questionnaire taken prior. Many people attended the event and we got great messages of support from both men and women about how meaningful they felt it was.
From that day on, TBWA\HAKUHODO now offers hygiene products free-of-charge at all womens’ toilets in the office. It might be baby steps, but we are contributing to change!

Q. What is the mission of the Peace Pirates?

It’s really about starting conversations and creating an atmosphere of open dialogue.
In a Japanese context, people tend to keep their opinions to themselves. It’s seen as “better” to keep quiet about what you have on your mind and to simply perform your task to your best ability. This kind of “stoicism” is seen as the ideal here, and that is great. It’s wonderful in many ways, but it also makes it difficult for dialogue as people don’t want to “impose” their opinion on you. So our job is to gently yet clearly establish a feeling of safety and openness where people will feel safe to discuss, participate and to engage in thinking together.
We want to be like a gentle breeze that will help open up dialogue. Our attitude and stance will always be “let’s think and explore together”.
Interest in DEI topics is increasing in this market, both from the consumer and the clients’ side. It’s essential that we have a formal and impassioned approach to building a DEI culture internally. The agency has to be the place that thinks, discusses, feels and explores DEI topics at the forefront!
That is what the Peace Pirates want to achieve.

Q. Do you notice any changes since you started the Peace Pirates?

We are a collection of people who have always been dedicated to offering creative solutions, and previously there have been many socially conscious projects and briefs that led to remarkable creative by TBWA\HAKUHODO that we are really proud of.
The Peace Pirates have now made open discussion about DEI or society-related topics outside of client briefs, possible. Through conversations with my colleagues, I can see that all the interest and passion to be socially conscious and DEI-driven has always been there, it’s just that the “formal” set up of Peace Pirates has helped draw it out from them.
Myself alone, all I could do was write down my thoughts and ideas, but we have a big team now. We can bounce ideas off each other and we can build big events and make waves together. That’s a huge change too, and one that I’m personally very happy about.

Q. What is the goal of Peace Pirates? Any specific challenges you want to undertake?

We want to continue to facilitate big and small changes in the agency. That may mean collaborating with HR regarding rules, or general admin for office space design. We want to be as collaborative and cross-functional as possible.
DEI must be able to explore topics about sexual minorities, the non-Japanese community, gender balance and inter-generational differences, etc… There are simply so many topics that need to be “opened up” to free discussion.
We want to promote seeing things from each others’ perspectives and to help build bridges, and we will continue to create these forums for the agency.
The market is increasingly demanding that brands have a clear stance on societal issues, and we as the agency must be the driver behind these informed stances.


We look forward to showcasing more Peace Pirates activities on STORIES so please look forward to it!

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