The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan

Womenomics is a prime part of the sociopolitical agenda of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The need to address female participation in the workforce—and how to enable and create an environment for them to use their knowledge and skills effectively—has been highlighted by Abe. One mother who began to take decisive and independent steps to address this before Abenomics took flight is Keiko Maruyama, CEO of Womanet Academy and Consulting.

“In 2011, we experienced the Tohoku earthquake, and I had a sort of awakening,” Maruyama told The Journal. It was at this point she realized that she wanted to contribute more to Japanese society, and spend more time at home.

“There must be more to life than working like a robot on a nine-to-five basis,” she pondered. She decided to leave her sales job at a large information technology (IT) company to find something more “meaningful.” One of her main concerns was work–life balance, with her family being an important driver for wanting a change in lifestyle.

WOMEN IN IT
She identified a key area—one that has been under much discussion in Japanese politics—in which she could contribute her skills and knowledge in marketing and sales.

Maruyama, age 43, wanted to help other like-minded women in the IT industry, and help enable them to go out on their own. The mother of a 10-year-old boy understood that IT is notoriously an industry and discipline in which women are scarce. This was how the idea for Womanet Academy and Consulting took root.

“I wanted to know what was happening in the local area [Yokohama], so I went to a lot of seminars and spoke to a lot of women,” she explained. “One day I picked up a brochure for Yokohama Social Business School, and I applied.” She attended the school for three months as part of a free program provided by the City of Yokohama.

There she met other women who wanted to solve social problems in Japan, particularly how women can manage both family and work. “It was a new world to me,” she said, adding that she learned social businesses, how to solve local issues, and how to build an NPO as part of the course.

Maruyama explained that many of the women she met “have the goods and services, but they don’t know how to sell them.” And here lies the premise behind her work.

Once she had discovered that there was a need for training in IT, marketing, and sales, Maruyama established Womanet Academy and Consulting in May 2012, to help women who want to solve social problems.

“We provide a wide range of web skills,” she said, with a focus on how to use social media and other web-based tools. “We provide business seminars collaborating with accountants and lawyers,” she added.

She said that many of the business seminars provided by the government are held at night. Womanet offer seminars during the day, and offers childcare options, allowing women to attend without needing to finding someone to look after their children.

When asked if she faced difficulties when starting the company, she explained: “There were no real struggles. I had some doubts, but in my first year I noticed a big demand for our seminars, and we did quite well.” She said this was in large part because she was not providing a product—just her knowledge and services.

CONSIDERATIONS
Maruyama explained that she has four main components to consider when running the company. “It is important to really listen to women’s concerns and provide solutions,” she said, explaining that a focus on quality customer satisfaction is key.

Secondly, “We have to keep it positive and fun,” she explained. “We try to communicate with attendees, and they can ask anything they want in seminars.” She said this contrasts with some government-held seminars, in which communication can sometimes be one-way. Maruyama wanted to allow for dialogue.

Of course, she said it is key to stay up-to-date with the latest technologies and practices and share these with women who attend the seminars. “I try to attend global events,” she said, adding that she would be going to WAW! (the World Assembly for Women) 2016 in Tokyo on December 13–14. Hosted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the two-day conference addressed changing work styles, leadership by women, and how women can contribute to peace and security, some of the issues that Maruyama is tackling through her business. The conference was attended by a host of international leading women, including Instagram COO Marne Levine, who highlighted the benefits of technology to women in the workplace.

“We hope to expand all over Japan,” Maruyama said. Currently, Womanet Academy and Consulting operates mainly in Yokohama and Tokyo, but she hopes to offer services in more rural areas—especially those lagging in IT knowledge.

She hopes for some kind of collaboration with the government—a pertinent point following WAW!, where the role of technology in allowing for flexible working lives was a key focus. Working with the government was a key part of actually taking action.

“I am establishing a new sharing-economy business,” she explained, hoping to support women, particularly housewives who have work skills and a background in IT. “We will retrain them with the latest information in marketing and IT.” In a wider sense, she hopes to help activate business in local areas, and to provide opportunities for women who have retired or have just had children.

EMPOWERING WOMEN
Globally, manufacturing jobs are in slow decline, and turning to IT is important for women looking to further their careers. “We need to create our own new opportunities,” Maruyama said.

IT is a sector that Maruyama believes is especially significant. “You don’t have to be living in a metropolitan city to have a career,” she said. “You can work from wherever you live.” This flexible style of working, she feels, is key for women with children to continue a career while they also “support family, in the traditional sense.”

Another societal issue that Maruyama is looking to address is the declining birth rate. She feels that tapping into women’s potential is key to making up for a struggling workforce.

One of her central focuses is creating opportunities for women to find their independence. This, she said, will happen through learning management skills, “which can help make them independent, no matter what the future may bring.”

Already, Maruyama has achieved milestones with the company. Womanet Academy and Consulting was recognized for its work by the Gender Equality Cabinet Bureau in June 2016, and continues to help many women with its services.

Her advice to women looking to start their own business is to “set your target audience.” She explained that it is crucial not to target such a wide audience at first. Instead, be specific.
“Womanet teaches women that failure is not such a bad thing, but usually a stepping-stone to success! Who better to help women than other women?”

Maxine Cheyney is a staff writer for The Journal.
There must be more to life than working like a robot on a nine-to-five basis