For International Women’s Day 2017, we’re asking you to #BeBoldForChange.
We are calling on you to help forge a better working world – a more gender inclusive world. As the founder of Mums in Business Tokyo and Spotlight on Japan it is my privilege to be able to highlight some of the challenges in Japan and celebrate the successes. As a Spotlight Ambassador, my #BeBoldForChange commitment is to connect a panel of inspirational speakers with an audience of entrepreneurs, business leaders and individuals at all stages of their career, along with words of wisdom from our Spotlight Ambassadors, and encourage everyone pledge support to achieve gender parity.
Recently reported in the press: Japan slides to 111th in WEF gender equality rankings
The Global Gender Gap Report 2016, an annual benchmarking exercise by the World Economic Forum (WEF), found that despite Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push for women to play a greater role in society, the nation had done little to make more use of its female talent since its ranking at 101st last year.
Emily leRoux – SPOTLIGHT AMBASSADOR INTERVIEW
To ordinary women, particularly those living in patriarchal societies such as Japan, global events to promote female empowerment can seem remote. The average working mother does not always relate to campaigns for more alpha-females to fill company boards and parliamentary seats.
Spotlight on Japan takes a different approach, celebrating “the small victories and innovations” achieved by men and women who are working to create a more equal and flexible workforce in one of the least unequal and rigid countries in the developed world. Grassroots change, says founder Emily leRoux, must start with incremental, achievable goals.
“Personally, I think a line-up of CEOs can be off-putting”, she said. “Young, aspiring Japanese women need realistic targets. For example, they need to be able to show their friends and family that they are pursuing careers for themselves, and that they are not prepared to sacrifice personal ambition merely because culture previously dictated they should do so.”
To that end, leRoux has spent the last five years setting up projects to support working women in Japan. In her role as a director at the Tokyo office of Michael Page, a recruitment company, she devised and launched the company’s diversity & inclusion strategy and a mentoring programme for women employees.
2013 saw the creation of a networking group for working mothers called Mums in Business Tokyo, a local ‘LeanIn circle’ inspired by the rallying call of Facebook’s chief operating office Sheryl Sandberg. And in 2016 the inaugural Spotlight on Japan campaign, part of International Women’s Day 2017, was launched.
LeRoux’s ambition and fierce work ethic are mirrored in and inspired by her love of sporting excellence. A competitive rower in her 20s, she attributes her 13-year career at Michael Page to a CV in which she described her “passion for rowing and the discipline and dedication of training”. This, she believes, persuaded the company’s managing director to hire her. She sees parallels between the competitive, team-building disciplines of sport and the skills that women can harness to achieve career success.
“SPORT HAS A POSITIVE IMPACT ON SOCIETY”
The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is #BeBoldforChange. “With the 2019 Rugby World Cup and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics I believe Japan has a ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity to effect change”, said leRoux. This could begin with the pale, male and stale face of Japanese sport. “Look at the organising committee for the Rugby World Cup and the Japan Olympic Committee – a collection of greying men. Japan is missing opportunities to inspire the younger generation through diverse role models.”
Diversity is still something of an alien concept in Japan, where leRoux moved with her husband and young son in 2011. Another son was born in Tokyo in 2013. “I was the only working mother in the office”, she said. “Many people asked me how I managed it, and I struggled to answer because to me it is just something to get on with. I never once considered that my career would take a back seat.”
She shares the school drop-off and packed-lunch duties with her husband, but admits to enduring a “personal mental battle” when she leaves work at 5pm each day to see her children. “I think people judge me, despite the fact that I run some of the most successful teams in the company.” She remains “angry” that an appraisal by her peers once gave her a low score on how hard she worked.
Yet her refusal to conform to Japan’s highly inefficient long-hours culture, which rewards presenteeism and penalises working parents, is one of the “small innovations” that she believes are essential in reforming antiquated working practices.
In fact, without this kind of flexible working, Japanese women will continue to be forced to choose between work and parenthood, and the birthrate will continue to plummet. By choosing to act as a role model and pioneer, leRoux is therefore helping to solve a life or death issue for Japan.