On December 12, Sasakawa USA convened a SWAN discussion featuring remarks by Ms. Mika Takagi, director general of the Washington, D.C. office of the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO). In this event, Ms. Takagi shared insights on how emerging women leaders can spark innovation and effect change within large institutions.
In her current work at NEDO, Ms. Takagi promotes U.S.-Japan collaboration to make advancements in clean energy and critical technologies such as AI, 5G, and quantum computing. She also serves as a Special Advisor to Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), where she spearheaded the creation and development of the renowned “Cool Japan” strategy to bolster Japan’s economic and diplomatic standing on the global stage by harnessing the power of Japan’s creative industries. In this discussion, Ms. Takagi drew from her experience working on Cool Japan to share insights on how emerging women leaders can make an impact in large organizations, as well as how they can successfully navigate gender-related barriers in the workplace.
Ms. Takagi began by explaining how she initiated the Cool Japan campaign, noting some of the challenges of the project which included rethinking METI’s internal organization to encourage better collaboration across the different economic sectors for promoting Japan’s diverse creative and cultural industries abroad. She also spoke on her experience as a woman working as a career bureaucrat within the large, established organization of METI, noting that some policies and general aspects of workplace culture discourage women from committing to professional careers for fear of not meeting societal expectations tied with being a mother.
Following Ms. Takagi’s remarks, Sasakawa USA Director of Programs, Ms. Shanti Shoji, moderated a Q&A discussion with attendees to explore other questions related to how women leaders can support one another in their pursuit of maintaining impactful careers and advancing workplace equality so that all members of society can make meaningful contributions through their work. For example, attendees noted that more consideration should be given to how fathers can be encouraged to take a more active role in childrearing so that both men and women can maintain a balance between having a family life as well as a fulfilling career. Another point raised in the discussion was the importance of ensuring women have equal opportunities to men for promotions and long-term career growth, which can be limited due to workplace policies and expectations which put some mothers on less competitive career tracks due to the presumption that these responsibilities compete with their commitment to their employer. To combat this, the attendees suggested that support should be given to reintegrating and retraining women who return to the workforce after taking maternity leave; women should also take the initiative to advocate for themselves to dispel inaccurate preconceptions about their ability to balance work and family commitments.