Last week, I joined a Women in Technology Japan (WITJ) dinner in Roppongi to help kick-off planning for the year ahead. Made up of an international group of women, the members were all longtime residents of Tokyo, who hailed from Australia to Malaysia, and have either engineering backgrounds or hold executive roles at leading information technology or enterprise-level companies.
Before arriving in Japan, it was nearly impossible to find any tech conferences and events in Tokyo where women were visible, especially as keynote speakers. I knew they existed, as many of my female friends in Tokyo work in IT. That's when I googled "women in tech japan" and found an organization working to close that gap.
My own stereotypes were tested when I met new and existing members of WITJ who've been living in Japan more than two decades, and had become, as they described, 'numb' to a professional work culture that's about 'fifteen years behind' from a diversity and inclusion standpoint.
Janelle, who works in the Diversity & Inclusion department at a global finance and accounting company assuaged my sense of shock after she mentioned things have improved a lot recently, especially after Japanese Prime Minister Abe began implementing practices and policies to move the country toward gender equality.
In 2013, Abe began advancing 'womenomics', the idea that empowering women in the workforce has the greatest potential for driving the Japanese economy, the same year that a Taiwanese-born Annie Chang founded Women in Tech Japan.
With a handful of core members, WITJ is looking to build and grow a community of like-minded professional women in IT fields to network with women of all nationalities, exchange their experiences and ideas, and improve work-life balance here in Japan.
As it was around the Lunar New Year, Annie invited us to join the conversation over a delicious Chinese dinner that featured a juicy, succulent Peking Duck.
Over duck, I heard about how 'flex time' was introduced in Japanese companies, and cultural roadblocks internally within organizations resulted in inflexible managing styles and hyper-surveillance. We also talked about going beyond gender and other nationalities to include disabilities, LGBT, and religious diversity, which can impact the recruiting process for IT.
Thank you for having me, Women in Tech Japan. If you're interested in getting involved, you can message the team on the WITJ Facebook page here or say hello below. Know any organizations in Japan that are also working to increase diversity and inclusion? Have any thoughts on #womenomics? Please feel free to share below.