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Home > Debates Last Updated: 14:31 03/09/2007
Debate: Forum

Tokyo Forum: Women and Foreign Nationals in Information Society

Discussion Summary Part 1: The Leadership Role of Women in Information Society

Saskia Sassen (Professor of Sociology, University of Chicago)
Aynur Unal (Chief Technology Architect, E2 Open, California)
Rebecca Leung (Chief Operating Officer, Instinet, Asia)
Merle Aiko Okawara (Chairman, JC Foodsnet Co., Ltd.)
Toshinari Ishii (GLOCOM Visiting Research Fellow, CAN Forum Manager)

Takahiro Miyao (Professor, GLOCOM)

MIYAO: Now that we have heard Professor Sassen's keynote speech, we will directly go to the first panelist Dr. Aynur Unal. Why don't you express your view on this issue.

Tokyo Fourm Discussion 1UNAL: I studied at Stanford and am working in Silicon Valley in the field of electronic manufacturing, all of it global. I think there are a lot of efforts in IT and Information Sciences for everybody including women naturally. But the results are not very good. We would like to create a turning point. How do you do that? It is essentially focused on education. Compared to the past status of women, we have today quite a few entrepreneurs and quite a few CEOs, CTOs, etc. among women, but I think, by and large, a majority needs to be represented. There are a lot to do, and the most of it is educational. I have been thinking about the fact that Internet technology has changed the way we manufacture, and also it has changed dramatically the way we deliver education. But the university is having such strong inertia. So it would not come from the univeristy, but rather come from industry. Therefore, I suggest that maybe Silicon Valley should take leadership and increase global mentorship. A consortium of universities, even governments, in various countries might establish special programs in computer sciences for women, for example. The beauty of Internet technology is to make it possible and much cheeper and faster. We need to use it.

MIYAO: Professor Sassen and I are happy to hear the argument to emphasize the importance of education from the business side. Next, please Mr. Rebecca Leung from Hong Kong.

LEUNG: I work for a stock broker and its major shareholder is Reuters. I am not an expert in the IT field. Therefore, I don't want to focus my comments just on Information Society. As a matter of fact, I don't see any big difference between the information field and any other business field, when we talk about women's role. In my opinion, although cultural factors may have prevented women from participating in economic and social affairs in the past, that is no longer the case nowadays. I feel that even Japan has changed and the same with other Asian countries. Because of the nature of my job, I have to work together with a lot of foreign nationals and have to be in a lot of foreign countries like in Japan. I often come to Tokyo, and work with Japanese nationals, both men and women, and actually I don't feel that there are disadvantages for me as being a woman to conduct business in Japan. Some difficulties I experience here, as I experience in some other countries, are the language, stringent regulations, etc., but those are nothing to do with being a woman. If you as a woman want to be successful, you have to possess all the elements for success and you have to well prepare yourself, just like any successful man. What are the key factors for success? You have to have the right attitude, skills, experience, education, self-confidence, stamina, commitment, etc., and at the same time you have to be in the right place at the right time to grab the opportunities. Over my twenty year's career life, I have never felt disadvantaged by being a woman. Sometimes I actually feel that I have some advantages of being a woman.

MIYAO: Now we have had views from the U.S. and also from Hong Kong, it is about time to hear views from Japan. Ms. Merle Aiko Okawara, please.

OKAWARA: I would like to address some of the problems and experiences that I have had as a businesswoman in both the old and new economies. When I started my food manufacturing business in the mid 1960s, Japan was still trying to catch up with the West and, therefore, the "iron triangle" consisting of politicians, bureaucrats and big business were concerned with developing such industries as ship building, steel, automobile and consumer electronics. These types of businesses necessitated a take charge, command type of leadership, a macho figure. In those days as a young woman the main problem I faced was the lack of credibility. Without credibility, the banks hesitated to make loans to our company; employees hoping for stable employment did not join and it was difficult to deal with suppliers and customers. So my driving goal was to gain credibility by becoming a part of the establishment, to become a publicly listed company. In order to achieve this goal there were certain psychological mind-sets that were important. For example, always thinking big, having a positive outlook, believing that we were the best, and being creative to make up for a lack of money and people. From the practical point of view, I was fortunate to have mentors who guided my business career. I also placed great importance on networking. In the new century, it is unfortunate to note that the status of women in large Japanese corporations have not changed significantly despite the fact that the equal opportunity laws were passed fifteen years ago. And this, despite the fact that nowadays women are increasingly controlling the purse strings, influencing the decision in purchasing the family car, children's clothes or furnishings for the home. Therefore it is wise, if not imperative for the survival of all companies to have women in R&D and marketing and other managerial areas to reflect the needs and desires of all consumers in a balanced manner. I believe that the popularity of the i-mode is due to the fact that one of its main creators was a woman and was therefore able to reflect women's lifestyle needs in the new product. Actually in Japan over 60,000 women are running their own businesses. The Internet and other advances in information technology have dramatically changed the playing field for women. It has brought down barriers that kept women out of the work force by providing opportunities to telecommute and work from home. It has also made it easier for women to start up businesses with very little capital and only a handful of employees. I think that the rules of the new economy also call for a different type of leadership, one that is based on team building and a flatter organizational chart. And this is in general the type of leadership that brings out the best abilities of women who by nature are less confrontational and better in general at team play. Just as the 2lst century solution to business will be a convergence of old economy companies with the management styles and tools of the new economy, I hope that it will continue to open up more possibilities for women and men to work on an equal and level playing field.

MIYAO: Now it is your turn, Mr. Toshinari Ishii, to express your view, probably from a man's standpoint or whatever, please.

Tokyo Fourm Discussion 1ISHII: I am trying to look at women's environment from a viewpoint of a man placed in an organization or in a society. Definitely, IT gives us a lot of things for women or for men, regardless of gender. The new technology has given us a new option, but still it is a tool. As long as we learn how to use this technology, this is enabling us, including women, to participate in business and other social activities as well. But I think that technology does not change everything, and we need to revisit obstacles for women. What we are facing in Japan today is the low birth rate and aging population, having more senior people. To support this economy, the second largest economy in the world, we need to reactivate our resources more effectively. Unfortunately, I believe that Japan has not really opened opportunities for women yet. Nowadays women are invited to be more active in business, but we need to look carefully into what the Japanese community has done for women. In Japan, we need to develop more support systems for women in their communities, as men tend to have "automatic" expectations that women take care of family matters such as taking care of children. Unless we develop such support systems in Japan, opportunities for women will remain much less than those for man no matter how hard women work. So I personally believe that technologies are something very important and significant, but at the same time, we as human beings have to look very carefully at how to utilize these technologies for men and women in the future.

MIYAO: There have been a number of important issues raised by the panelists. Professor Sassen, could you comment on any of those issues?

SASSEN: I really enjoyed hearing my four co-panelists! Three of them come from the world of business and, I think, made it very clear that in the field of entrepreneurship there are enormous opportunities for women. And I really appreciate Mr. Ishii's comment on the constraints that Japanese society keeps on putting on women. One subject, perhaps, is at risk of disappearing in this discussion about leadership is the political issue and different kinds of politics that are also enabled by these technologies. I already addressed this in my earlier talk, but there is much more to be said. It would be very interesting for me to see whether there is any woman in the audience who has used these new technologies, let's just think of the Internet, to engage in politics and to do a kind of organizing that represents a new type of networked politics. Another comment that I would really like to put on the table is on what was said about Japan right now having 60,000 women who own their own business. This is a second fact that is at risk of invisibility because the images we have about Japan do not necessarily make you think of that fact.

OKAWARA: I would like to address Professor Sassen's question on utilizing the Internet for political campaigns. A few months before the last Upper House elections, several executives of Internet related firms got together to form a committee called iRevolution. The purpose was twofold. One, to field three candidates, mainly campaigning through the Internet. And two, to field candidates that understand the importance of the Internet and information technology well enough to represent the industry in the Diet. Unfortunately only one person was elected and mainly because he also carried out a real world campaign. The candidate that campaigned solely in virtual space was not able to gather many votes. I think that the reason is that the Internet in Japan is still accessed mainly by people in their twenties and thirties, perhaps a target audience that is not too interested in politics. Nevertheless, the group continues to expand its membership and eventually will play an important role in the political arena because the Internet will be a powerful means of getting the message out to the masses. On the other hand, I am also one of the founding members of "Win Win", an organization that we formed about four years ago because we thought that it was important to improve the status of women in this country. During this short period of time we have been successful in helping to elect several women to Diet seats and two women Governors; Governor Domoto of Chiba and Governor Ota of Osaka. This is a small but important step. I think that the new era in Japan will be influenced by two important factors: women and information technology. And as a matter of fact, they are very much intertwined.

ISHII: As Ms. Okawara pointed out in connection with the last Upper House elections, there is a significant gap between generations in terms of the usage of the Internet. This really reflects Japanese culture, because our traditional culture very often discriminates against something new or something different, rather than looking into its real value. So this kind of attitude has to change, but we need leadership. It might come from the government or private institutions like GLOCOM. I think that this is not a technological issue, but a cultural issue, which is very important. In the past senior people used to educate younger generations. Now, young generations can educate senior people. This is our challenge.

LEUNG: I just would like to give an example. Statistics show that in Hong Kong women account for about 18 percent of the law making body. Is it the society or the culture that would not let women take part in this role of law making as much as man? My answer is actually no. You have to look at the situation twenty or thirty years ago. To join this law making body, you have to be thirty years old or above, and twenty or thirty years ago women were not interested in politics or law. That is one of the main reasons why women represent a smaller percentage in the law making body. But this will be changed, because nowadays women's mentality has changed and they want more challenges. More and more women are studying law. So I think that time is changing.

UNAL: I have a short comment. Guess what. To be a great mother is a great thing, but now it has an additional task of understanding Internet technology. When children ask the mother about it, you have to be knowledgeable.

MIYAO: To conclude this session I would like to have a final comment from Professor Sassen, please.

Tokyo Fourm Discussion 1SASSEN: In many ways we mapped a rather interesting set of possibilities and also constraints that women face in many cultures. I do think that we are at the beginning of potentially, enormously interesting new era. We are entering this new phase, where we can all become more international, more global, etc. without losing specificity and rootedness in our countries. These new technologies open up a field, where we can connect to each other as organizations, as entities, as projects across the world. And in terms of the subject of this particular panel, information technologies give opportunities to women to enter spaces, political, economic, cultural spaces, etc., where before we were more excluded or had limited options. There are enormous possibilities, but it will take initiative. It will take action. It is not going to fall from the sky. It is much more than simply knowing how to use the hardware. There is an intervening set of cultures, economic cultures, political cultures, etc., that need to be developed and within which these technologies can really enable us. So I just want to finish on this positive note. Thank you.

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