Ikumen Trend is a solution to solving Japan’s issues of demographic aging and the falling birth rate – when men help with the household and child-rearing, women are also able to pursue their careers, so boosting the female workforce and raising GDP
The definition of Ikumen is ‘fathers actively engaged in raising their children’. With Ikumen now regularly featured on Japanese TV and in news articles, and with research indicating that businesses with a more diverse leadership perform better, more companies are now encouraging their senior managers to demonstrate their skills as an Ikuboss and to lead by example.
Will the rise of ‘Ikumen’ and ‘Ikuboss’ encourage the number of new fathers taking paternity leave beyond a reported 2% currently?
One woman who believes in making waves, and is part of the driving force behind diversity initiatves and the Ikumen policy at Deutsche Bank Japan, is Sara-Elly Shimabukuro. As a Spotlight Ambassador Sara-Elly is passionate about sharing her personal story and challenging organistaions to improve management focus on the individual needs of employees.
To get involved with Spotlight on Japan 2017 please register to attend the evening event at The Peninsula Hotel on Tuesday 7th March. Register here.
Sara-Elly Shimabukuro – SPOTLIGHT AMBASSADOR INTERVIEW
Vice-President CEO Office, Deutsche Bank Japan
Interview by Lucy Alexander
Sara-Elly Shimabukuro believes in making waves. Small waves, says the vice-president at Deutsche Bank, are the best way to erode the adamantine monolith that is the Japanese corporate mindset.
Chipping away at the cliff-face of the Japanese finance industry is not for the faint-hearted. “In investment banks, you’re in a world that’s quite masculine”, says Shimabukuro. “So right at entry the roles that women do are quite limited. You don’t find that many women traders. If a client calls you at 8pm in the evening and asks you to do something, you have to do it.”
There are signs of progress, she says. “Some mega-banks have recently implemented a limit on working hours. They turn out the lights and kick people out of the office. That’s a huge thing for a Japanese mega-bank to do, and it means very soon we will see others doing it too.”
Shimabukuro, who is half-French, half-Japanese, says women still face discrimination at Japanese banks. “They have a clear classification between the sales front office, and the general administration back office. Women tend to be placed in the back office while male new graduates are put in front of clients.”
She wants to help Deutsche’s female staff forge a brighter future for themselves. “I’ve been very involved in diversity initiatives and there is a very positive impact on the women who have been exposed to these activities. They have been more proactively asking for promotion, and some have got promoted.”
In her own career, she feels she has avoided discrimination by sheer force of personality. “I have asked for promotion and pay rises”, she says. “So in four years at Deutsche Bank I have been promoted twice.”
Shimabukuro came to her present job – business manager in the CEO’s office, overseeing projects and strategy – after working for financial organisations including Goldman Sachs. She ensured that the job would accommodate her two children, aged two and five.
“When I interviewed I asked how much autonomy and flexibility I would have. I have a lot of control – when my kids are sick I can work from home. Technology is a big part of it but also the trust you have with your boss.”
Shimabukuro has been involved with the company’s “ikumen” policies, a buzz-phrase referring to fathers who are actively involved in child-rearing – still a novelty in Japan.
“It sounds funny to foreigners because of course it’s natural to be a father”, she says, “but here men are almost ashamed to talk about their private life. Some of the men who were nominated, we didn’t even know they had kids, because they had hidden it.” The ikumen campaign broke down that barrier, says Shimabukuro. “They would open up and start talking about their kids to other people.”
The very concept of recognising an employee as an individual with a life outside work is a radical act in Japan. Even when companies provide facilities for staff, such as a gym, “people are ashamed to go”, said Shimabukuro, “because you’re not supposed to have time for yourself.”
For Shimabukuro, Japan’s workplace dysfunctions could be solved by a simple focus on colleagues as human beings. Companies can continue to offer diversity policies, but “if managers do not sit down with their staff and ask them, ‘What is it that you need to be happy at work?’, then their staff will never take up the opportunities offered by these policies.”
Japan’s post-war economic miracle was built on squeezing as much as possible out of workers, which has led to collective national burn-out. Shimabukuro believes that, if managers were trained to focus more on the needs of their staff, “you wouldn’t have suicides, you wouldn’t have all these women resigning”.
This is Shimabukuro’s commitment to the rallying cry of International Women’s Day, ‘Be Bold For Change’: “I would like to help address the lack of management focus on the individual needs of employees. If we want to help women, we need to address issues such as overtime and seniority-based promotion, and promote a culture of transparency and meritocracy so people can better integrate their work and private lives.”