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February Meeting Recap: Lean In: Japanese Women

By Lisa Matsumoto, Public Relations & Communications Intern

On February 9th, FEW members and guests leaned in to listen to our guest speaker, Rena Suzuki, co-founder and leader of Lean In Tokyo. Lean In is a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping women achieve their ambitions. Lean In Tokyo helps women gain confidence and take an active role in their workplace by changing the attitudes and individual mindsets of working women in Japan.

Rena Suzuki was born and raised in Tokyo and majored in commerce at Keio University. Following her dream to become successful in the business world, Ms. Suzuki set off to work at an investment bank in Singapore where two-thirds of her colleagues were women. Feeling empowered, she came back to Tokyo to work at another investment bank, but to her dismay, only 7 out of almost 100 of her fellow colleagues were women. She felt restrained in her male dominant workplace, but knew that if she spoke up, she would not become successful, and so kept quiet when male colleagues spoke of women as trophies or objects. Ms. Suzuki’s ambition diminished as she gradually stopped reaching for new career opportunities. Soon after, she got engaged and planned to become a housewife. However, a reunion with her college friends and their remarks asking what happened to the ambitious Rena Suzuki they knew reawakened her drive. She started to take on more responsibilities again and decided that she needed to help other women who were struggling with the restrictions that social norms produce, thus founding Lean In Tokyo.

Lean In aims to educate and build a community where women can share their stories, learn from one another, and share the idea of Lean In with both women and men. Lean In Tokyo has 3 main activities: monthly women speaker events, updates on social network sites, and bi-weekly meet ups. It aims for a society where “all women can challenge and pursue their ambition.” Although Japan has been changing to help women, individual mindsets must first be changed in order to make policies effective. For instance, using maternity or paternity leave should not make employees feel guilty.

Ms. Suzuki gave two very simple tips on how to get started on changing your mindset: First, say thank you when you receive a compliment instead of “sorry” or “thank you, but….” Second, acknowledge your abilities by saying yes to offers. Many women doubt themselves and let good opportunities slip away, but Lean In aspires to help women not hold back and to go for these opportunities.

We are eager to see where Rena Suzuki’s endeavors will lead and hope that both men and women alike will continue to change social norms and their own individual mindsets for a more diverse and inclusive society. Ms. Suzuki’s final piece of advice? Do what you want to do.

Learn more about Lean In Tokyo here: http://leanintokyo.org/

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