March Monthly Meeting Recap – Tackling the Gender Gap: Finding Your Niche with Hitomi Komachi

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FEW Japan welcomed Hitomi Komachi, Senior Associate at Allen and Overy to speak at our March 2021 monthly meeting. Hitomi’s personal journey in law began through a Zurich International School Career Fair in 2001 where she met an inspiring female lawyer and a work shadow opportunity at Credit Suisse. Eventually Hitomi landed a training contract at Allen & Overy paving the way for her to be qualified as a solicitor in the U.K. She worked for A&O in Paris before returning to Japan to join the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) in 2014. Hitomi now presently works in Tokyo in her current role. 

Why would you want to develop a niche in your career?

Hitomi listed out the benefits as providing a focus, gaining confidence, assisting others through depth of knowledge and experience while lastly, defining your market value. This is the key to becoming a market leader if you are able to visualize what areas you can provide extra added value.

Sound Advice Tried and Tested

Our audience was spellbound by the impressive flow of real gems provided by Hitomi illustrating just exactly how to create that niche in your career. Ready? Set and go! 

  • Make a bridge from your interest area to where there is a market demand for that. This involves asking several key questions starting with asking what your interests are to looking into the market prospect for the mid to long term. Researching and asking key players is definitely required.  
  • Personality tests such as the Myers-Briggs test which is often used in career management can be very useful. Know your personality so you can know others in order to formulate a diverse team, acknowledging differences in stress responses and communication styles . Many sources link diversity in personality/skills to profitability.
  • Develop a support network that embraces more than just a one way street. How can you exchange what you know with who you know. A support network involves colleagues, clients, competition, sponsors, mentors etc. Hitomi reminds us to pay attention to cultural differences when addressing how to help your contacts. Who do you go to and can you be one of those people?
  • Understand organizational psychology which highlights four areas on a spectrum of self interest to organization interests intersecting another dimension of political awareness and political unawareness. Be aware how this contributes to the gender gap. 
  • Be opportunistic if there is a leadership “gap” in your niche. Take the initiative and reins to lead. Many opportunities are arising, even during and as a result of Covid – new ways of working, the fight against climate change, advancement of IT and technology.
  • Challenges bring opportunities to do your genuine best. How do you want to be remembered? How can you view feedback as useful information that is objectionable as opposed to personal? How can you negotiate so all parties are winners? Be a bridge builder as opposed to a bridge burner. 
  • Visualize your pipeline and promote your value. Know and focus on customers/clients by structuring your pipeline to manage and take in opportunities. This allows you to address the resources required and professional needs to assist with growth. For business, this allows for a better sales process.


In addressing gender inequality, Hitomi revealed globally that there has been a sharp decline in female lawyers in senior positions as noted in early January 2020. Despite the progress on gender gap issues, there has been a regression that has accelerated with the onslaught of COVID. In stark contrast to the rest of the G7 nations, Japan sits with a dismal ranking of 121st place out of 135 countries according to the World Economic Forum’s 2020 Global Gender Gap Report. This is a drop of 11 places from the previous years. This has pushed the government’s target of reaching 30% women managers back by a decade. Currently less than 10% of Japanese listed companies have a female director on the board. This is a staggering and colossal opportunity cost to the country’s GDP. 

What are the DRIVERS for this?

Getting to the heart of the gender gap issue, Hitomi made no hesitation to point out that positive discrimination and sexism is very deep rooted in Japan society. There is cultural conditioning from a young age influencing expectations of women’s roles which limits choices. Additionally, rules created as a result of the cultural weight on conformity hamper progress. 

What can be done?

Along with progressive laws and regulations, institutions must adopt proactive initiatives as well. Hitomi points out how Allen and Overy have created specific targets to raise women participation at all employment levels and career stages. From raising the importance of diversity to providing a more supportive working environment for all staff, Hitomi also emphasizes and recognized the importance of sponsorship, mentoring and reverse mentoring. Reverse mentoring is a concept of transferring knowledge of strategic, technological and cultural relevance by pairing a younger employee with a more seasoned executive. Having visible role models is just as crucial as supporting leadership programs and committees for women. 

As Hitomi noted, we as individuals should not forget our own personal contribution to closing the gender gap. We can encourage leaders who represent women as well as become one ourselves. We can make our own rules and be role models for the younger generation. 

FEW Japan cannot thank Hitomi enough for generously offering our members such great advice and giving such incredible information to help pivot and grow on our career journeys in a male dominated world. A truly inspiring role model herself, worthy to be celebrated and applauded for her impact!  Thank you again for sharing your great passion about the power of inspiring younger colleagues as well as the benefits of reverse mentorship, finding what ‘gets you going’ and going for it!