Working Together For
Women's Empowerment.

On Saturday June 8, WE Int. held a rooftop party and special panel night in Roppongi. This was the group’s very first open event since its establishment.

The night began with a members-only retreat. As members entered the beautifully decorated rooftop venue, they were invited to share their favorite quotes about women’s empowerment. One that really stood out was Emma Watson’s declaration of “If not me, who? If not now, when?” which she made during a special event for the HeForShe Campaign.

Another quote which was very inspirational was Mia Hamm’s quote, “My coach said I ran like a girl, I said if he could run a little faster, he could too”. Members also shared their personal motivations for joining WE Int. and this brought them close together as they empathized with one another’s struggles and connected over their common hope for change.

The retreat was followed by a lively panel discussion with our four very accomplished panelists, Ms. Brittany Turner, Associate at Morrison and Foerster LLP’s Tokyo office, Ms. Katie Wheeler, Senior Manager at Accenture, Ms. Mayumi Beppu, Vice President at Innovation Network Corporation of Japan, and Ms. Uyanga Erdenebold, Program Manager for “TOMODACHI” MetLife Women’s Leadership Program.

These inspirational women shared their experiences working in their respective industries, and gave practical advice to members who were keen to navigate male-dominated industries upon graduation.

One of the biggest hurdles for Japan is making the workplace more attractive for women. The rigid working conditions for mothers who are responsible for childcare and the high expectation of unpaid overtime has traditionally been a key characteristic to the male dominated Japanese work culture. These situations are often seen in male-dominated industries like finance and law. The panelists agreed that these issues are acknowledged within the society, yet not many people take actions to tackle the issue.

However, the panelists discussed they are hopeful because the recent promotion and encouragement of women's participation in society from the Japanese government has urged big traditional companies like Shiseido to create more women-friendly work environments. They mentioned to it is critical to understand the work culture when choosing a company, rather than looking at each country's stereotypes for working conditions. No matter which company you go to, the panelist emphasized the importance of being yourself. Their heartfelt advice of not letting others’ expectations or lack of expectations of oneself to decide who one can be was especially empowering.

The night then ended with a cocktail reception, where panelists, invited guests and WE Int. members continued having meaningful conversations about empowerment and got to know one another better.

We would like to thank our panelists, Mayumi Beppu, Uyanga Erdenebold, Katie, Wheeler, and Brittany Turner for sharing their extensive experience, insights, and practical tips, as well as our diverse audience for a lively discussion.

We hope that our collaborative efforts can create a platform for fruitful solutions to various gender related challenges that Japan faces.

Article contributed by Xinyi Koay & Momori Hirabayashi

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Japan ranks among the worst in fertility rate. Some experts argue that this is due to poor working conditions for women. In this week's #HeSupports, we interviewed Raphael Yeo, who shared 3 structural issues in our current Japanese system that is causing the low fertility rate.

You were one of the first males who came to the WE Int. meeting. What do you hope WE Int. will achieve?

Gender Equality in Japan! Not to menspect (like putting my man expectations on We Int), I really hope in the short run, you will inspire many more women to identify with your cause(s)! In the longer run, I hope that WE Int will give a larger voice to women, especially women struggling with work and having children, and perhaps even advising/lobbying on policy decisions on the political level!

You’ve done a lot of research in fertility. Japan ranks 179 in fertility rate. Some experts argue the low fertility rate in Japan is due to poor working environment for women. What’s your take on that view?

The literature does say that part of low fertility is definitely due to poor work environments. But in general, there is a trend of decreasing fertility as societies become more economically developed. This is probably due to the investment shift of quantity to the quality of a child. Parents are now investing more than ever in their children as compared to previously. But that being said, I think it is totally unacceptable that women do not get the help they need, especially when women are an integral part of the modern workforce. Dual income families are now the norm, so I don’t see why society cannot support them in this endeavour.

Furthermore, most families cannot survive comfortably on a single breadwinner anymore.

For the Japanese case, I feel that the societal conservatism is the primary reason that prevents women from accessing the workforce proper. First and foremost, there is an entrenched societal mentality that reinforces the breadwinner-homemaker model. There are societal expectations for women to stay at home, while the men go out and work. But as aforementioned, in this current global economy, this approach becomes economically unwise. I feel that if this mindset is overcome, then families and women will feel more comfortable to have them pursue their professional lives.

Off my head, there are at least 3 structural issues that first need to change. For example, the tax system does disincentives women from pursuing full time work – higher tax for combined family income should it exceed a certain threshold etc. My suggestion would be to shift this tax system from a family unit base, to one based on the individual. Further improvements that are needed would be a change in the labour laws regarding protection of the part time employee, as many women work part time due to the family tax conditions. Finally, even though there is paternity leave available in Japan, it is not mandatory for the father to take. If it was, perhaps it could nudge fathers to share the burden of childrearing, to perhaps incentivise families to better the fertility rate in Japan.

How is gender related issue treated in Japan compared to your home country?

For one, we do not have such an entrenched mindset on the familial structure. So I think it has been a lot easier to implement changes that support gender equality. But the fact is that Singapore has viewed women as an important part of the economy for a long time, since the 60s. As such, empowerment has not been as difficult as in Japan. Furthermore, as a multi-racial society, we are I think more predisposed to an exchange of ideas. Hence, I think the government sees what works for us and tries to implement changes in an incremental way. For example, with the implementation of the mandatory paternity leave, it took a number of years to raise it to the current 2 weeks. We introduced 1 week first, and then it was followed up with 2 weeks a few years later.

How do you think men can benefit from achieving gender equality?

I think men can benefit in many ways with greater gender equality. For example, with more mandatory paternity and childcare leave, fathers can have more time to fully participate in the growing up years of their child. I think those experiences would be very invaluable to them, even though it may not translate to tangible benefits. On the more tangible side, not having women drop out of the economy due to household responsibilities would translate into much economic benefits for the whole economy. But more than that, acknowledging and promoting gender equality is crucial for a better and more gracious society. Society will learn to be less misogynistic and self-centered. People will grow up in societies that respect and care for women, children, the weak, and the marginalised. And I truly hope for that kind of world.

Raphael Yeo

From Singapore, and currently doing my Masters of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, and the University of Tokyo. In my previous life, I used to be a professional musician and amateur poker player. I am inspired by Russian composers, Chinese culture, and Singaporean food.





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WE Int. is currently made up of 42 women who are passionate about women's empowerment. #SheInspires blog posts highlight those members who are motivated to make a positive impact in this world.

In this week's #SheInspires, we would like you to meet one of our amazing members, Christine.

Christine Yong, 2nd year master student at UTokyo

Why did you join WE Int? / What do you hope to achieve at WE Int? 

I feel strongly that the issue of the disparity between sexes in Japan is under-discussed. WE Int is an important force in fighting apathy about the problem.

As part of WE Int, I want to persuade people that equity among the sexes is not only a women’s but also a men’s problem, and understand how sex-grounded norms persist and change. We are, after all, actually from the same planet; we ought to forget that outdated recourse to Mars and Venus.

You’re in the tech industry where it’s dominated by men. Did you face any challenges because of the male dominated working environment? 

Initially, it was intimidating to even interview at a male-dominated company. The industry is male-dominated, and it seemed intuitive to assume that this reflected the likelihood that I would be hired. However, I am fortunate enough to have a CEO who was willing to take a chance on me, an unlikely candidate by all counts—a woman, and someone without a university-level qualification in the subject matter. He is also openly feminist, which is a rarity among male CEOs in Japan; this may have been instrumental in my actually netting the job, and hopefully reflective of an emerging social norm among Japanese entrepreneurs. 

Despite this, it was approximately 36 hours after I had started the job that I’d been in earshot of a comment that made me feel uncomfortable—about how a given person must be happy I was joining their team. Being unfortunately accustomed to the discomfort of the “male gaze”, I resisted the urge to shrug it off. I did not say anything at the time, but I later told colleagues about it.

Finally, there is the occasional bout of impostor syndrome. I’d never even considered I might be less than worthy in Singapore, where the gender gap (especially in compulsory education and the workforce) is less severe. Neither did it feature in particular when I was studying Natural Sciences at Cambridge, whose student population is slightly skewed in favour of males. The sensation of not belonging is far stronger in the company where I work, as well as in the University of Tokyo. Far from succumbing to it, it feeds the fire in me to prove that women has as much as men to contribute at work and in society. As a note, I recently learned that men experience impostor syndrome to a similar extent as women, and it should be noted that this is not necessarily an experience limited to the female sex.

How do you think we can create a comfortable working environment for women in Japan?

I would say that in gender unequal working environments, it is crucial to be honest and outspoken with your feelings of discomfort. Uncertainty about the appropriateness of certain actions is counterproductive because it strains the relations between men and women.

While this is not yet a personal concern for me, I also believe strongly in shortening the work day and accommodating flexible work hours for both men and women. I believe that the Japanese conception of work culture is admirable in that rewards loyalty and commitment. It should however also account for the inefficiencies caused by a lack of employee autonomy. For example, work practices like lifetime employment, regular overtime, the expectation to socialise after work all prevent men and women from being involved in work, each other, and their children in a fair manner.

Unfortunately, if culture is slow to change then policies (whether stemming form the company or government) should take the lead in moulding a better environment for women in the workplace—which can benefit men, too.

Why do you think women’s empowerment and promoting gender equality is important? 

Because we are all better off when everyone maximises their potential and minimises their pride and prejudice. If we are to judge the value of people, then let us judge people by the value in those achievements of relevance, and minimise the assumptions we make about the variables that undergird that value.

Any message to women trying to get into the tech industry?

Normalise your own presence where you are, whether you are a secretary or developer. Be proud of your work, and recognise that many different individuals are disadvantaged when trying to enter the industry. Pay it forward by nurturing them.

Yong Cui Wern Christine

Born and raised in Singapore, schooled at Cambridge (Natural Sciences, specialisation in Psychology, Neuroscience and Behaviour) , Sciences Po (Dual Master in Public Policy, specialisation in Digital and New Technology specialisation) and the University of Tokyo (Dual Master in Public Policy, specialisation in Economic Policy, Finance and Development). Am I a scientist in policy stripes or policymaker in scientific stripes? It’s anybody’s guess.

I have 4 legal parts to my name which I enjoy explaining very much, that is, to willing audiences. Sorry not sorry, Anglo-Saxon world.

Maybe the only person in the world who is simultaneously interested in neuroscience, baking, and Formula 1. I still haven’t quite figured out why. They’re all formulas to me.

Proud of my country, its people, its casual intimacy, its heat and its escapes, and how despite all of our modern trappings, coming back to Changi feels like coming back to my big island in the sun where I seek and find comfort, confidence, and relatedly but most nourishingly, delicious things.

I love talking and writing about brains. (And now) for my next (trick) project, I’m planning a series of articles on the past and future contributions of neuroscience to computer science, to be published over the next few months on my website at  Please have a look if you’re interested!

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