Be yourself to succeed, says Julia Maeda

Yuriko Koike, the Minister of the Environment, and cabi­net member for Prime Minister Koizumi, blamed her re­cent hospitalization on the pressures of being a woman in the Japanese workplace. She said what countless women have said before: a woman has to work ten times as hard as a man to prove herself.

As a foreign woman, you may feel that you need to work even harder than that. Japan is often viewed as somewhat behind in its attitude to women in the work­place. When you factor in the language and cultural bar­riers, the glass ceiling may seem quite daunting indeed.

However, as the experiences of some of my female associates show, working smart is just as important as working hard. This starts with a strong belief in your­self, knowing the stereotypes and breaking or even using them when necessary.

Imagine the lobby of a major Japanese chemical com­pany. The lobby is an ocean of black-suited men who, in true cinematic style, all stop mid-sentence and stare like you’ve just walked into the men’s locker room. For my associate this was just the prelude to a meeting with six men who listened blankly while she pitched her com­pany’s services. Walking out of the meeting she had no idea she had won the business until she returned to her office. Had she not had the courage and confidence to make that sales call, her firm would be several million yen the poorer. Remember, if you think you can’t, you are probably right.

As a woman in Japan there are a number of stereo­types at our disposal. The most typical here is that wom­en should be cute and chirpy. A consultant I know uses this to her advantage. To win clients over she is initially all smiles. Once she hears enough, she switches from feline to leonine and incisively dissects their businesses and lays her solutions at their feet.

At the recent Career Strategy Seminar run by F.E.W. (Foreign Executive Women), I was witness to a room full of women who had achieved, or were achieving success in their own right and on their own terms. Many were not only business owners, but mothers, wives and ac­tive members of their communities. None of them were of the ‘ball-busting executive’ variety. They were fun, sexy, feminine and were really enjoying talking with each other.

Recent studies prove that women are ideally suited to collaboration, and networking was the one piece of advice given by all the speakers at the event. Some great networking opportunities include internships, volunteer­ing for extra projects within your own company, char­ity work or taking up positions of responsibility within organizations, such as F.E.W, or the College Women’s Association. There are countless opportunities for the in­ventive mind. So start talking.

To quote Tammy Wynette; “Sometimes it’s hard to be a woman.” Hard work is a fact of life, especially when you are getting started in business. However, if you work smart, it doesn’t have to be so hard. It can even be fun, and you certainly don’t have to stop being a woman.