Ms. Rona Tison (Executive Vice President, Corporate Relations & PR, ITO EN, North America, Inc., New York) welcomed the attendees and introduced the panelists, highlighting that it was great to see so many women in the crowd. She then introduced the theme of career journeys by briefly introducing her own career journey through a wide variety of sectors, from hospitality to her current role in the retail industry.
Ms. Yuko Tashiro (Chairperson, Accordia Golf Co., Ltd.) then introduced her own career background, stating how her upbringing in 1960’s Japan did not encourage her to seek a career, and so her career journey started as a housewife in the United States where she balanced study and childcare to become a qualified accountant, landing her first job with KPMG. She said that this was one of many great opportunities during her career, but also required her to make the difficult decision to relocate from Ohio to Kentucky, to work in the rapidly growing automotive manufacture industry, which was in need of Japanese speakers to facilitate business with Japan. Through this, she first started to play golf with business partners. Ms. Tashiro touched upon the difficulties of balancing work and motherhood, and the importance of timing and being open to opportunities.
Ms. Katrina Masumi Lake (Founder & Chairperson, Stitch Fix) then discussed her own journey, describing how she moved from studying medicine to economics and eventually found success in starting her company Stitch Fix. When asked about her overall career vision, she described herself as an “accidental entrepreneur,” responding that she did not have the career goal of starting a business, and that Stitch Fix was based on her own interest in combining data with clothing and the clear opportunity she felt existed in the market at the time. Ms. Lake stressed that her access to resources and the right people at the right time was fundamental to her success.
Ms. Tison pointed out that a career journey started in our modern digital society can be vastly different to the traditional corporate path and asked Ms. Tashiro about her own aspirations at the start of her career. Ms. Tashiro answered that she did not initially envision herself as a businessperson, and that women are often underutilized in the workplace, especially in Japan, despite equal education and ability.
Ms. Tison then moved the conversation onto career challenges, especially those uniquely faced by women. Ms. Lake stated that while there is the image that Japan has a wider gender gap in the workplace, that does not mean that the United States is completely equal in comparison. She explained that access to capital is not equal, and that many opportunities are created behind closed doors, where unconscious bias and interpersonal relationships have a strong influence on investment and leadership decisions. Ms. Tison then gave some examples of initiatives that companies have been putting in place to make their offices more inclusive, and asked Ms. Tashiro about how the environment now compares to the start of her career. Ms. Tashiro described how moving back into a Japanese work environment reminded her of the start of her career in corporate America in the 1980s, but that her experience of two cultures has helped her to navigate and overcome difficult environments where her ability is questioned based on her gender. When asked if she had a “superpower” that kept her going, she answered that her attitude was always just to do what is best for the company and show results, and that once you can show results, people will naturally follow you.
Ms. Tison then asked for any advice the panelists have for women looking to build a successful career today. Ms. Lake highlighted the importance of not succumbing to imposter syndrome and remembering that those around you are not necessarily more able than yourself. She stated that in the modern day there is room for diverse leadership, with less pressure to lead “like a man,” and that it is important to be your authentic self to earn the trust of colleagues and break the mold. She also noted that nothing will go perfectly, and it is impossible to do everything yourself so some sacrifices will be necessary. She described how in many ways, being the first woman to achieve milestones was liberating, in that it allowed her to set her own base standard rather than following others. Ms. Tashiro agreed that there is only a certain amount of time in the day, and so it is important to set priorities when deciding how to use that time.
Today, society is trying to make changes to management on a large scale and needs to break through a wide range of values. Ms. Tashiro stated that this can be difficult and unpleasant for individuals and companies who are used to a certain status quo, and so the easiest change to make is to your own values. Ms. Tison agreed on the importance of setting goals, but also highlighted the importance of remaining flexible in these goals and staying open to new opportunities. She stressed that the stereotypical work-life balance for men in Japanese companies has already started to change and expressed how welcome male support is both for this and in general.
As both panelists had expressed that an element of luck and timing was involved in their career success, a member of the audience asked what they should do in order to be more open to and ready for opportunities. Ms. Lake answered that is important to surround yourself with people who have similar goals, and work under managers who can help support and enhance your career. Another audience member asked for advice for effective communication as a female or minority executive in industries where the workforce is typically older and less diverse. The panelists were in agreement that confidence in your own ability and authority to lead and exuding a presence as such is vital for leadership. Ms. Tashiro suggested that while simply being a woman may lead to different treatment from others, this can be utilized and is not an entirely bad thing. The panelists were in agreement that women have a strong ability to empathize with others and understand the attitudes other people are likely to have towards them and why.
The next question asked the panelists what can be done to help younger women including their own daughters understand their own potential. Ms. Lake stressed the importance of instilling self confidence in children regardless of gender and described how her own grandmother’s determination to raise her daughters to seek opportunity outside of being a housewife, even if this meant moving to the United States, as a large source of inspiration for herself. Ms. Tashiro expressed the importance of giving children the opportunities to be independent as opposed to providing everything for them. Ms. Lake agreed, stating that a large amount of her own confidence was built through failure and the room it gave her to grow.
Another participant asked what steps the panelists utilize to ensure they can build diverse teams and open doors for other women and minorities through their management. Ms. Lake answered that it is very important to hold an attitude of “culture add” as opposed to “culture fit” within hiring practices, bringing in applicants based on their future potential as opposed to past experience alone, and recognizing that marginalized individuals often face unique challenges, and their ability to overcome these challenges may well be an indicator of future success. Ms. Tashiro admitted that diversity efforts within her own company are still in progress, and that it can take a long time to implement large scale changes, even if there is strong influence and support for them both inside and outside the company. She recognized that each company has its own specific culture, and that what they have in common is the need to change management, in order to ensure diverse practices from the top down.