Retaining Working Mothers in Japan – Part 3: Normalising Flexibility

In the 3rd part of the 4 part Retaining Working Mothers in Japan series (Introduction, Communication during Childcare Leave, Smooth On-ramping for Working Mothers), we focus on a mindset that is going to support the work/life balance of your whole team. This will pay dividends in terms of productivity, retention and motivation for all your team, not only working mothers.

Normalising Flexibility

Your most important role as a manager of a diverse team is to normalize different ways to work. There should be no feeling that a working mother is a burden on others or that she gets “special treatment”. This only breeds contempt and lack of support.

Companies who have the most success have an open policy on flexible working.  Policies that are not based around gender or family situations have the most impact. There is a growing trend in Japan to increase productivity and counteract karoshi through finding new working styles as shown at the 2017 at will work conference (Japanese only).

Clients are implementing the following best practices in flexible working:

  • 10 to 2pm core hours and working from home 2 days a week.
  • Easy for employees to move between reduced hours and FT hours with one months notice.
  • Flextime for all staff approved without needing specific reasons – an inclusive approach.

Technology is in place to allow remote access and people are trained how to work in virtual teams. Check out Google’s quick  Womenwill videos for more ideas (Japanese only)

A word on “Reduced hours”

The child care and family care leave law obliges employers to reduce working hours to six a day in principle for those taking care of children under 3 years old and offer them an exemption from overtime work on request. The Japan Times article highlights the struggle of working mothers who are trying to keep their careers on track when they cannot commit to daily overtime.

It is important that you communicate to all team members that “reduced hours” does not equal “part time”. Working reduced hours does not equal less commitment, passion or competence on the part of your employee. Ability to work overtime everyday also does not increase your value to the organisation.

For most parents, it is a logistics issue with the commute and childcare facilities closing sometimes as early as 6pm. When we were juggling 2 kids in 2 daycares 20 minutes away from each other, I took the reduced hours path. There was no way that I could do the pick up and drop off without it and my company did not offer flextime like my husband’s company did. It was a painful year to work at 75% of salary as well! I was on a constant education programme to remind people that I was a full time employee and was committed to deliver on my projects.

How are you normalising flexibility in your organisation? I’d love to hear your best practices and how you are improving work/life balance for everyone.



My Lean In journey – the power of peer support

Feeling Lost

When I returned to work after the birth of my second child after a 15 month childcare leave (thanks Japan for your lack of daycare spaces), I was lost.

Whilst I returned at the same grade and pay scale, in effect, I’d had a demotion. I’d had the bright idea to hire a Director to support the hyper growth we expected due to several planned acquisitions across Asia. I still stand by this idea as the right thing to do for the business. However, I had no idea how much returning to an individual contributor role would effect my motivation and impact my identity at work.

Gone were the days of being the go to person on projects, the joy (and tears) of managing and motivating a team. I felt like a part of me was missing.

As I struggled with the logistics of two different day care locations, I was having deeper struggles with my own sense of purpose and values in regards to my career.

Inspiration strikes

It was at that time I read Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg (and if you still haven’t read it yet, get a copy now!).
There were so many inspiring ideas and most powerful to me was the idea of the Lean In Circle, a grass roots, peer to peer support network for professional development for women.

During a CEO sponsored lunch about our organisations need to increase female participation in our management team, I raised the idea of having a corporate Lean In Circle to my high-potential female colleagues.

Overcoming resistance

“Oh, we should probably wait until the official D&I programmes are established.”

“It sounds like a lot of work. I don’t know if I can commit got attend a meeting every month.”

I was so disappointed in these replies and they seemed to me symptomatic of the participation challenges faced in many organisations.

Creating your own path

Waiting for the official D&I programmes to be established? How about taking the initiative and driving your own change? If you want a seat at the table, you need to show that you can make things happen.

Corporate decision making can be slow (understatement!) and in the meantime, my life is passing, my career is going nowhere. Why on earth would you want to wait and give that power to someone else? Own your future and create the reality you want to see, please, ladies!

As for the meeting attendance, if you can’t commit two hours per month to personal development, then you are going to find it a very slow and painful process hauling yourself up that corporate ladder. We need to continually grow and develop ourselves. If not Lean In, then fine do something else! My colleagues had given clear feedback that the company was not developing them and yet as individuals they were not investing time and energy in taking charge of their own future.

Leaning In

So I set out on my own! With the CEO’s permission, I got access to one of our large meeting rooms and reached out to my network. That was in September 2014. The Lean In Tokyo Girls on Fire Circle is about to go into our third year. Our membership is fluid as people get transferred, have babies, get promoted with increased travel but some things are unchanging.

I look forward to every single meeting.

I leave energised, motivated and inspired.

I learn something new about myself every single meeting.

I have a group of cheerleaders in my corner who have no agenda other than seeing me be successful.

I have more accountability knowing that these women will ask me at the next meeting “So did you do what you said you were going to do?”

I’ve made some amazing new friends and I will always be grateful for their support.


Creating real change

Lean In runs so well due to very strict confidentiality so I can’t share details but it has been inspiring to see the members support each other through job changes, promotions, interviews, negotiations, pregnancy and relationships.

In July 2016, I launched a second Lean In Circle, Lean In Japan Entrepreneurs. Whilst we plan to meet online only I can already feel how committed the members are to each others success.

My advice to women who are stuck in a rut – Look for like minded women and start your own circle.

(Or Contact Me if you would like to join one of the circles I facilitate)

Stop waiting for someone else to tell you how to develop your career and take matters into your own hands. LeanIn will be a valuable tool for you to move your career forward.

Would love to hear your Lean In stories in the comments below!


Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead

Lean In Org – lots of great free resources to get your Circle started

Lean In Tokyo Girls on Fire

Lean In Japan Entrepreneurs





What does money buy?

I have to start with a disclaimer…my youth was all about instant gratification. My mum said my breach birth set my approach to life – jump in feet first. I’m still for the most part a fan of trial and error with the belief that most mistakes can be rectified.

In my first part-time job at the age of 14, I would gleefully rip open the pay packets each Saturday and plan my Monday after school trips to Muse and Vibes to buy whatever NME was recommending that week. I didn’t really do “saving” or believe that a rainy day would ever come…

So when I was asked to speak at the Accenture x AIESEC  Japan Women’s Initiative – Global Leadership Lab for 2nd and 3rd year university students on the topic of “money and your career”, you can well imagine that my imposter syndrome radar was on overdrive!

I didn’t speak about the practicalities of investments or how to make your money work for you. My focus was on the need for a mindset about what money can buy.

Money buys freedom.

Money buys choices.

Money buys control.

A few months ago I read an article about the (pardon my language here) Fuck Off Fund. It clarified a lot of what I had been thinking about money and what it means to me.

I know women who stay in abusive relationships putting their physical safety at risk. They have no control over money, no savings and no choice. I don’t want anyone I know to feel so helpless. To feel that they have to put up with such emotional and physical hardship. To feel like they have no choices, no options.

I believe we need to feel that we made a conscious choice to be where we are today. Money helps us to be in control of those choices. Money gives us the freedom to choose a different path.

This guy? He doesn’t exist!


It’s time to stop believing that a knight in white shining armour will “save” us. In Japan, marriage rates are falling, divorce rates are rising and jobs for life are gone. Putting all your eggs in one basket, a basket managed by someone else, just seems like a really risky move.

When I left corporate life and set up my business, countless people said to me, “Oh your husband can support you. you can relax and spend time with your children.”

Well, pardon my language again but, fuck that. I’m not doing this for pocket money. I’m doing this to provide for my family and share the financial burden with my partner.

For some of the young ladies in the room it was a new way to look at their future and what being independent means to them.

What choices have you been able to make because you had financial freedom?