The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan

Diversity | Single Moms

September 2013


Motherhood needn’t be a handicap for aspiring corporate leaders

By Elizabeth Handover

I first met Makiko Fukui in 2011, and was immediately impressed with this friendly and confident young woman who had single handedly set up and made a success of a business that many had advised she was mad to start.

“A recruiting business for single mothers? Nobody will hire them!” Well, as it turned out, plenty of companies did hire them and Fukui’s business has gone from strength to strength, bringing her to the day at the end of May this year when she was awarded the Women’s Challenge Grand Prize by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Cabinet Office.

Fukui was recognized for her efforts to persuade 100 companies to hire women, many of them single mothers, and place them in full-time and management positions. Her company, Harmony Residence Inc., is the only recruiting company in Japan that specializes in helping single mothers to gain quality, full-time jobs.

At present 80 percent of her job candidates are single mothers, 10 percent are single women and the remainder are married women with children.

The Japanese government’s goal to have women fill 30 percent of management positions by 2020 has boosted the number of companies that are seeking women who have the talent and qualifications to fill leadership positions.

However, despite their stated desire to both hire and promote women up the corporate ladder, many companies are reluctant to provide female employees with the budget and the opportunity to get the right training.

Seeing this gap, Fukui stepped up to seek leadership training for her candidates and reached out to the Women’s Leadership Development Centre (WLDC). The WLDC specialist program empowers women to let go of self-limiting attitudes and gain self-confidence, while developing authentic leadership behaviors and presence.

The leadership program has been offering scholarships to Harmony Residence candidates since 2012, enabling them to have the right qualities and self-belief to aim for the top.

What first fueled the passion to support women’s success? As an eight-year-old child in the 1970s, Fukui was given a school assignment to write about what she wanted to become as an adult.

She dreamed of being a doctor but, when she shared this with her parents, she was shocked and deeply disappointed. She was told by them that her ambition was unrealistic and that it was impossible to both be a doctor and have a family.

She gave up her dream and went for a less ambitious career. Nevertheless, she experienced frustration and difficulties when working and looking after her daughter. The problems were exacerbated by having to give up her job several times to follow her husband when his company relocated him.

Then came the day when her daughter was eight years old and came home with the very same assignment “What do you want to become when you grow up?”

As Fukui read her daughter’s many lovely and free-ranging career dreams her heart sank. She suddenly saw with great clarity the reality that not much had really changed for women over the previous three decades. In that moment she decided that someone really had to do something to help Japanese women make their dreams come true.

Gradually, the resolve was born to start a recruiting company. Through this, she thought, she would change society’s perception to the point where it would recognize that women, both with and without families, can become successful corporate leaders.

Fukui also plays another key role in supporting women in her position as vice chair for advocacy on the ACCJ Women in Business Committee.

Her role is to provide information to the Japanese government and help them find better ways to accelerate the promotion of women in Japan.

Government policymakers sometimes lack knowledge and essential information about the real challenges women face across the business world. By submitting official viewpoint documents, Fukui and her colleagues on the committee, with the support of the ACCJ leadership, can submit valuable input based on up-to-date, real-world needs.

It is essential to have the right government policies and a better business environment to create a level playing field for women. But, if society is to change for the better, Fukui believes that something else also is necessary.

Women, she explains, must step up, take action, and make an effort to invest in themselves. That they can do by having the courage to reach out for promotion, leave a dead-end job for a better one, or invest in training to gain more confident behavior and leadership skills.

Many women naïvely are under the misapprehension that, if they just keep quiet and work hard, at some point their effort will be recognized and they will be rewarded.

However, the world is changing faster than ever before and others are moving forward. This means that those who stand still are, in reality, moving backwards.

Thus, Fukui urges women to take, at every opportunity, more positive action and more responsibility for their personal and professional lives.

Fukui’s continuing and growing dream is to see Japanese women have fulfilling careers, while becoming economically independent, more confident and, ultimately, happier.

And, who better to be a model for all these aspirations than Fukui herself? •

Elizabeth Handover - ACCJ Journal

Elizabeth Handover is co-chair of the ACCJ Women in Business Committee and president of Intrapersona K.K., Lumina Learning
Asia Partner.

Women must step up, take action, and make an effort to invest in themselves. That they can do by having the courage to reach out for promotion, leave a dead-end job for a better one, or invest in training to gain more confident behavior and leadership skills.”