by FEW Board Member, Helen Hunt
For 25 years, FEW has been connecting foreign professional women from all backgrounds in Japan—quite an achievement and definitely a time for celebration!
FEW is a networking organization whose aim is to help foreign women in Japan achieve their full professional and/or personal potential, focusing on networking and information exchange as well as educational and social activities.
Reaching beyond the confines of “executive” women, FEW welcomes foreign women from all professional backgrounds and at all stages of their careers. FEW has more than 250 members, encompassing a wide swath of the foreign female community: executives and entrepreneurs, stay-at-home mothers, and wives of husbands stationed in Japan. Some are studying, many work. Some are fresh off the plane, with no knowledge of the culture, while others have been living here for so long that they feel Japanese. Together they represent a great many countries, with varying goals, dreams, and ideas, all wanting to make the most of their lives in Japan.
That was exactly what prompted FEW’s founders to start the organization 25 years ago. Foreign female entrepreneurs wanted to recreate in Japan the network of professional and social relationships that they had enjoyed in their home countries. At the time, foreign women in Japan were few in number, so support and networking opportunities were limited and it was easy to feel isolated. Coming together as professional women, therefore, was as meaningful as it was fruitful. The organization was aptly named Foreign Executive Women or FEW.
The name Foreign Executive Women was adopted as part of the group’s identity. Over the years, there have been moves to change the name because it might sound exclusive, though the organization does not exclude any foreign woman, regardless of her training, background, or employment situation in Japan. Today, primarily because of its historical roots, the acronym FEW has remained, although it now more accurately means “a FEW Good Women.”
FEW has evolved tremendously since its inception but the premise of providing an opportunity for foreign women to network remains unchanged. There are now two chapters, one in Tokyo and one in Osaka. Members come from 20 countries worldwide, and work in over 50 fields. A third of the members use Japanese extensively in their work place, and a further third have basic Japanese ability. About 40 percent of our members have come to Japan because of a spousal transfer. The age range is from the early 20s to the late 50s.
So, ladies, whether you’re new to Japan or have been here for a lifetime, there is sure to be something or someone to inspire you at one of our monthly meetings or special events. Held at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club in Yurakucho on the second Thursday of every month (except Aug.), each monthly meeting starts off with some mingling over drinks and delicious food. Introductions by members are quite inspiring as most women have mastered the art of introducing themselves and informing listeners of events and job/ volunteer opportunities all in under 30 seconds! What follows then is a lecture by a speaker—always interesting, and sometimes even controversial—with time for questions from the audience. Past speakers have included women and men in media, government, education, management, and more.
In addition to the monthly meetings, we organize other events on an ad hoc basis. These can include training workshops, social gatherings over brunch or dinner, wine tastings, or cultural visits. Past events have included cherry blossom parties, art gallery visits, movie screenings, financial planning seminars, resume writing workshops, summer hikes, and weekend retreats.
Other activities include the annual Career Strategies Seminar for those job-hunting or looking for career inspiration. This one-day event is accompanied by the Career Guide, published to give you the inside scoop on the Japanese job market (also available to purchase at FEW meetings or by contacting [email protected]).
FEW and its Community Service Committee have for the past decade served the Tokyo community at large and enabled FEW members to explore and utilize their skills for the benefit of others. Its mission is to organize, support, and facilitate community and charitable activities in Tokyo.
Raising money for non-profit organizations has been a large part of our work. Supported NPO’s are Japan-based and conduct Japan-focused activities. Many of the organizations FEW supports work with women and children. For many years, both individually and through FEW’s Community Services Committee, FEW members have been actively involved in fundraising and raising awareness for a number of charitable groups and organizations in the Tokyo area. Women’s shelters and children’s welfare groups are among the groups supported by a variety of FEW fundraising activities including walkathons, BBQs, beach clean-ups, bazaars and more.
To help facilitate this work, FEW has been publishing a Volunteering Directory since 1995 where those who are interested in volunteering in the Tokyo Area can find plenty of information. In the latest edition more than 80 organizations that welcome volunteer help are listed.
So, if you’re working, wanting to work, volunteer, or just socialize or network with like-minded ladies, and if you haven’t yet experienced the inspiration and the connection to other women just like you, now is the time to try FEW.
For information about FEW Kansai, please visit www.fewkansai.com.