By Lisa Matsumoto, Public Relations & Communications Intern
The new FEW year kicked off on September 8th, as members and guests came together for our monthly meeting where we learned what diversity and inclusion can do for us in our workplaces and communities. Our guest speaker was Janelle Sasaki, a third generation Japanese-American who is now the Executive Director of Diversity & Inclusion Advisory Services at Ernst & Young Japan.
After her grandfather, a Buddhist priest, took the family from Fukui Prefecture to California, Ms. Sasaki grew up in a mostly non-Asian culture, experiencing diversity from a young age. Yet it was only at university she truly felt the power of diversity and inclusion from being exposed to all kinds of students from disabled to LGBT.
Following her studies, Ms. Sasaki came back to Japan to teach English in Miyazaki Prefecture through the JET program, worked at Cisco headquarters in the U.S. and Cisco Systems Japan, and is now striving to change the mindset of companies in Japan at her current role with Ernst & Young.
In opposition to the Silicon Valley values of having different perspectives, thinking outside of the box and being yourself, working in Japan has proven to be a challenge with the tendencies towards command and control, hierarchy and conformity that’s deeply rooted in the culture. The Japanese saying “the nail that sticks out gets hammered down” is a perfect example. However, Ms. Sasaki says we need different types of nails and whatever shape or size, they must all be included. There’s a need for cultural competency when the work force, marketplace and work style are all changing.
Japan is extremely behind in gender parity despite being a developed country and according to the WEF Global Gender Gap Report, ranks 101 out of 145 countries in the gender equality index, with only 26 percent of women in middle management and 9 percent in senior management. According to the same report, “at the current rate, it will take until 2095 to achieve gender equality.” Ms. Sasaki gave us three ways to speed up women’s advancement in the workplace: have visible career opportunities, flexible work practices and a supportive work place.
As Ms. Sasaki stressed, Japan cannot wait until 2095, and this is where her current role is of utmost importance. She spoke about a key pillar of “Women. Fast Forward,” an initiative which represents the Women Athletes Business Network in Japan. Research has shown that sports backgrounds help women executives to succeed at work because of the leadership skills learned that cannot be taught in the classroom. Sports give us confidence, help us focus on goals, overcome setbacks and force us to persevere, which is all necessary for leaders.
Ms. Sasaki also stressed the importance of making a conscious effort to be aware of your unconscious biases, which is why she invited FEW members and guests to take part in two activities. The first involved saying the name of the color of each word, and not the color named by the word, while in the second one, we wrote down our first impressions of several photos. What’s important is to be mindful of bias and how it impacts our decisions, to have a voice and to be an agent for change. No matter how small, one voice for change is another voice heard.
Judging by the reactions of attendees, many of us seemed to be able to relate to Ms. Sasaki’s experiences, and were able to take away good advice on how to create a better, more diverse and including work and social environment. FEW member Shivaji Gopalkrishna mentioned how all of the statistics presented backed up Ms. Sasaki’s conclusions and it was interesting to hear the perspectives of others during the participatory activities.
We’re eager to see where Janelle Sasaki’s work in advancing women in the workplace leads and hope our daughters and granddaughters will be embrace the benefits of a multicultural, diverse society. As she impressed on us, the “first step is to be aware.”
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