From CEOs to SheEOs – Balancing for Better

From CEOs to SheEOs – Balancing for Better

In March Monthly Meeting, we celebrated International Women’s Day and the International Women’s Month with a panel discussion on how to make technology industry more diverse. FEW was proud to be supported by W20 Japan Committee 2019.

On March 14th, three leaders and pioneers in diversifying tech, Casey Wahl, CEO of recruiting company Wahl & Case, Yan Fan, co-founder and CTO of coding bootcamp Code Chrysalis, and Tutti Quintella, a software engineer at Mercari and Director in Women Who Code Tokyo, came in front of 40+ FEW Members and visitors to take part in a panel discussion on how to make tech more inclusive.

Panelists with Diverse Background Themselves

Already the round of introductions promised deep insights into the industry and innovative ideas for change. Wahl, who has been living in Japan for almost 20 years, working on revolutionize the HR and recruitment in Japan, describing it a constant struggle with the bureaucratic systems of the country.

Fan, who started her career in the financial industry, soon grew disillusioned of the culture and learned to code. Coding gave her the freedom and confidence she had lacked, and now she wishes to empower other women through her company.

Quintella is the only one in the panel who has gone through the ‘traditional’ career path from studying computer science at the university, and then working as a software engineer first in her native Brazil, and then in London and now in Tokyo. Due to the difficulties and almost hostile culture towards women when she was a student, she wishes to make change via education both inside her current company as well as more broadly via Women Who Code.

Diversifying Tech: Long Road Ahead, but Change is Inevitable

Jackie Steele, FEW’s Programs Co-Director and the moderator of the panel, asked panelists how do they see the myth of Japan as innovative and top-notch technology country. “Japan has been great in creating new hardware, like the Sony and other companies show, but they actually lack skills in creating software”, Fan opens the discussion, and everyone on the panel agreed. “In terms of AI, I don’t think Japan’s that advanced. However, Japan is very good at backing it’s winners, like robotics,” Casey added. “English is the dominant language of software development worldwide. I also feel that Japan is negatively impacted by the low levels of English skills”, Quintella said.

To reflect the theme of International Women’s Day, #BalanceforBetter, we provide ‘her view’ and ‘his view’ of the key points of the event, formatted in a style of an interview for readability. ‘Her view’ was kindly provided by Kirsten O’Connor, the founder and Director of QUEST Tokyo KK, and ‘his view’ by Yu Maemura, a Canadian researcher at the University of Tokyo’s Department of Civil Engineering.

What was the most surprising point of the discussion?

O’Connor: “As an educator myself, I was surprised that higher level degrees in Japan, even from the top universities, generally do not lead to higher salaries or increased career opportunities. The tech-based university course landscape is limited, and although some 400 students currently study AI they cannot graduate in the field.”

Maemura: “I was surprised to hear that Fan and Code Chrysalis were having trouble hiring Japanese staff for her Tokyo office, as the talent pool does not appear to have the diverse experiences she needs to help her company. They have worked for one company for a long time, and are waiting for someone to tell them how things should be done, even though in a start-up they should come up for new and better ways to get things done.”

O’Connor: “It was also interesting to hear from Wahl how employment practice and culture are also impacting Japan’s tech industry presence. Work patterns and expectations are fundamentally different between foreign and Japanese organisations. Although expressing a desire to globalize the workforce, Japanese companies struggle to modify work culture to maximize the impact of new, foreign team members.

What were the key takeaways from the discussion?

Maemura: “In Japan, the companies have to incentivize global talent, and get rid of inefficiencies in order to compete at a global scale. I think the fundamental issue is how to balance the benefits of risk & innovation, with security and stability, in rapidly changing markets.”

O’Connor: “I think the panel was right saying that the tech industry needs to understand its users better. Currently, tech is predominantly designed for male users by male dominant teams. Women in tech have to fit in with ‘bro-culture’ in order to be accepted into a team. That’s why teams must continue to diversify, so that tech can be more accessible to the other 50% of the population!”

FEW would like to thank all three panelists for a thought-provoking and interesting discussion on the key issues technology industry is facing today. Many of the innovations and changes are also needed in other areas in Japan, so we look forward to the tech industry leading us down the road of progress!