On Tuesday, January 21, 2014, Ochanomizu University hosted the A-WiL Symposium* entitled "Women, Work, and Leadership: Making a Difference for Leadership in Action." The venue was close to full capacity, attended by roughly 100 people comprised of university students and members of the general public.
As part of a program to cultivate more female leaders, the A-WiL symposium was begun in AY 2011 as a vehicle for discussing diverse topics concerning the possibilities for developing leadership among women through education. The theme for the first symposium, held two years ago, was "The University as Architect of the Future — Considering Today from the Future: the Mission of 20-Year-Olds." Last year’s theme was "Global Women Leaders Create Tomorrow." These two symposiums demonstrated the possibilities for Ochanomizu University undergraduates and graduates to play active roles as female leaders. The theme this year was "Women, Work, and Leadership: Making a Difference for Leadership in Action," bringing the symposium into its third year. This year saw a review of the issues discussed in the past two years, with participants discussing and thinking about what life and work means to women and about how leadership is demonstrated through these everyday endeavors.
Ochanomizu University has a school song entitled Migakazuba. The Japanese lyrics of the song liken the act of continually striving towards mastery of academic pursuits to the polishing of a gem or mirror. This idea is the central educational philosophy of Ochanomizu University, and the secondary theme of this symposium, Make a Difference, expresses the desire to manifest the spirit of Migakazuba in the university's leader development philosophy. "When we each take a step forward, and move ourselves and those around us to action, we can change the world. Aiming to cultivate leaders for a new age who possess a continually critical mind, proactively encourage action from others, and bring change to society." Migakazuba expresses this philosophy concerning leadership.
* A-WiL is an abbreviation for Ochanomizu University’s “International Research Program for the Advancement of Women in Leadership,” a special project funded by the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (AY 2010‒AY 2015).
The symposium focused on women's attitudes and inner life and the conventional wisdom and cultural imprinting (socialization) from which they are formed as a means to examine how one can demonstrate leadership based on the spirit of Migakazuba. To begin, a video was shown of a TED talk given by Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO and a prominent figure in recent news, entitled "Why we have too few women leaders." The talk was intended to illuminate the barriers and difficulties faced by women in positions of responsibility.
[Announcement and Message from the President]
The symposium kicked off with President Hanyu expressing her hopes for the symposium to serve as an opportunity to discuss the specifics of the University's aforementioned educational philosophy and ways to demonstrate leadership. After a message from Kumiko Bando, Director-General of Higher Education Bureau, MEXT, the symposium moved into panel discussions, the central subject of the evening.
Presenters for this panel discussion were all graduates or alumni of Ochanomizu University. In addition to moderator Hiroko Nomura (Associate Editor of Nikkei Money Magazine, published by Nikkei Business Publications, Inc.; graduated from the Faculty of Letters and Education in 1984), there were four panelists: Yuki Nakamasa (Deputy Director of the Self-Governance Promotion Section, Hachioji City Hall Urban Strategy Division; completed a program in history at the Ochanomizu University Graduate School of Humanities in 1995), Madoka Ouchi (Teacher and communications Department Director at OHYU Gakuen Girls' Junior & Senior High School; completed a program in chemistry at the Ochanomizu University Graduate School of Advanced Science in 1991), Mai Sunayashiki (Marketing Group Manager, Life Sciences Division, Fujifilm Corporation; graduated from the Faculty of Home Economics, Department of Household Management in 1987), Emiko Takeishi (Professor at the Faculty of Lifelong Learning and Career Studies, Hosei University; completed a program in Human Developmental Sciences at the Graduate School of Humanities and Sciences in 2001; earned Ph.D. in social science). These five panelists spoke on the "inner barriers" encountered in building their career and how they overcame them, as well as the driving forces behind overcoming these barriers. They also discussed the new perspectives they gained after becoming leaders and the goals they were working towards.
After discussions led by the panelists, participants heard a message prepared especially for the day's symposium by Sheryl Sandberg, who appeared in the TED talk shown at the start of the event. In the message, Sandberg provided words of encouragement, stating that "women can free themselves from various pressures through diligent effort and support, can realize their own full potential, and derive satisfaction from both work and home life," and that "competent women can bring about a better, more just society if they stay at their jobs and work hard to become leaders." This was followed by a deeply meaningful dialogue through a Q&A session where the four panelists gave their own distinctive responses to questions posed by the female students and men in attendance.
The following are reports on the panel discussions from two students who attended the symposium.
At this A-WiL symposium, we discussed how women can overcome the barriers on the road to establishing our own lifestyles and exercising leadership in the workplace, with insights from personal accounts given by the panelists. The discussions delved into the inner turmoil and anxiety felt by women towards balancing child-rearing with work, and stereotypes such as that workplace leaders are supposed to be men, not women. We talked about how women's "inner barriers" exist in every facet of life, and how not only hard work but also the support of people like bosses, coworkers, and parents is essential to overcoming these barriers. Something that I took away from every panelist's talk was their enthusiasm and strong conviction towards work. I realized that it is very important to have passion for one's work, whatever the field, and strong conviction to balance childcare with work. These two things act as an engine for activity by women in the workplace. At the beginning of the symposium attendees were shown a video of Sheryl Sandberg speaking at a TED talk. Her talk emphasized the importance of women being proactive, but after participating in the symposium, I felt that leadership was not a matter of pulling society along by force. To me, female leadership involves being aware of one's environment, taking a step back, and helping others. In contrast to times where men's dominance over women was a matter of common sense, the world of today expects women to become heads of state and contribute to society. However, it remains a fact that there still exist inner barriers that women subconsciously develop, and there is no denying that many women quit their jobs regardless of the many programs that provide support for child-rearing. Attending the symposium gave me an understanding of the importance of willfully changing these inner barriers and a desire to move forth with confidence.
In listening to the four panelists talk about ways to overcome one's "inner barriers," I was left with the impression that the environment surrounding a person, including their family and school, plays a major role in overcoming these barriers. Some of the comments made by the panelists included “it was very natural for me for both my parents to work while my mother simultaneously brought me up,” “my parents let me do what I wanted to do,” and “I went to a school comprised overwhelmingly of female instructors.” A particularly intriguing aspect here was the realization that I was raised being told that women should be independent and that they can succeed through hard work, but also that I lived in an area from late elementary school through high school where thinking was still conservative concerning women in the workplace. Growing up, whenever women around me tried to become leaders, there would be someone there pulling them down or making disparaging remarks. Children who grow up in such areas and have families that think in such ways will come to believe that it is not acceptable for women to become leaders. To develop female leaders, children must be raised by families and taught at schools that do not promote the development of "inner barriers," and the mentality of adults in the area must be reformed. As Sheryl Sandberg said in the video at the beginning of the symposium, I feel it is critical to reach out to one's community with the belief that "while the current generation of women do not make up 50% of the world's top leaders, future generations have that potential." Lastly, the panelists, who are my Ochanomizu University predecessors, shared a message for those aiming to become leaders. They told me to keep an open mind towards people with opinions different from my own, to adopt new perspectives and understand the good in others, to decide things for oneself, and to have an impact on others and become a force for change in society. The symposium taught me the importance of individuals each changing themselves to achieve a world where more women can work and re-instilled in me a desire to strive towards that end.
Ochanomizu University Homepage Steering Committee
2-1-1 Otsuka, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo 112-8610, Japan
Copyright © OCHANOMIZU UNIVERSITY. All rights reserved.