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How Technology Can Revolutionize Women’s Work-Life Balance
An Interview With BT Japan President Yoshida Haruno

BT Japan President Yoshida Haruno recently became the first female director at Keidanren, a prominent business lobby. We talked to her about how the accelerating technical revolution is helping expand opportunities for working women.

Yoshida Haruno

Yoshida HarunoBorn in Tokyo in 1966. Graduated from Keiō University in 1988. Joined Motorola Japan in 1990. After getting married, moved to Canada and joined a local telecommunications company. Later divorced and moved to the United States as a single mother. Joined the sales division of NTT America. In 2004 was assigned by the company to Japan, where she worked as head of the sales division at NTT Communications. In 2008 was headhunted to run the sales division at Verizon Japan. In 2012 she became president of BT Japan. In 2015 she became vice-chair and director of Keidanren.

In Washington as head of the Keidanren Female Executives Mission in late February 2017. (© Jiji)

Yoshida Haruno is one of the most prominent faces of the government’s recent drive to  give women the chance to excel and play a wider role in society. She is certainly leading by example. Yoshida is the president of BT Japan, the Japanese wing of British Telecom, and in September 2015 became the first female vice-chair of the Keidanren business lobby. She now heads its committee on gender equality. In late February this year she visited the United States as head of the Keidanren Female Executives Mission, made up of senior women from various Japanese companies. She had meetings with Dina Powell, presidential advisor in charge of supporting female entrepreneurs, as well as numerous women executives in major companies.

“These days I often describe myself in interviews and seminars by saying that I wear four different hats. There’s my job as president of BT. At the same time, I’m a vice-chair at Keidanren. Then since last September I’ve been a member of the government’s Regulatory Reform Promotion Council. And there’s also my role as mother to my daughter. I seem to spend my days dashing from one meeting to another! And then there are the overseas business trips and missions. I get to bed at 11 every night, and I’m up by four the next morning, watching CNN and catching up with the latest stories about the Trump presidency. It’s all so exciting. I can’t sleep through it.”

Following Her Own Path

“Right now, Japanese society is at a major turning point,” Yoshida says. The cabinet has approved plans to push forward with the development of what is being called Society 5.0. The aim is to use information and communications technology to promote innovation and build a new type of “smart” society that will boost productivity and at the same time be more flexible in terms of working patterns and lifestyles. As the representative of the business world, Keidanren is supportive of these efforts and optimistic about their potential. What are the possibilities of the technological revolution in terms of expanding opportunities for women and supporting new work styles?

“Today I am seen as some kind of representative of the age, as the first female vice-chair of Keidanren. But I followed a very roundabout path to get where I am today. I graduated from university in the late 1980s, at the height of the bubble era. I was still a student when the Equal Employment Opportunity Act was passed in 1985.

“To be honest, during my student days I never really thought much beyond working for a while after graduation and then getting married and becoming a full-time housewife. But I suddenly came down with a serious illness that hit me almost at the same time as I graduated from university. No one seemed to know what was causing it, but I had terrible fevers and almost lost my eyesight. For a while I think it was touch and go whether I was going to live through it. Eventually I recovered, but by then I had already missed my chance to join a Japanese company as a new recruit fresh out of university. Instead I found a job with Motorola’s Japan branch. I was a big fan of foreign films in those days, and I think that helped my English and enabled me to get through the interview. When I joined Motorola, I encountered ICT for the first time.

“Then in the second half of my twenties I married a Canadian man and moved to Canada. At the time my only thought was to become a happy Canadian mother and have loads of kids. That was my dream. But unfortunately life doesn’t always go according to plan!” says Yoshida with a relaxed laugh.

“Instead, I ended up getting divorced and moving to the United States as a single mother. Life was tough. I had to bring up my daughter on my own while I worked at a succession of telecom companies. But there were good aspects too. I enjoyed my work in sales. In fact, you could say I was saved by the digital industry. I’ve never worked in a regular Japanese company. I’ve never experienced a lot of the rites of passage that go with having a regular job in Japan. I’ve never had anyone coach me on my career path. I was just motivated to work hard to raise my daughter. I was driven by a strong desire to get through the difficult times and make something of my life. As a result I have worked in companies around the world. I didn’t have any special gifts or talents, and I didn’t even think about the glass ceiling. If I have a regret, it’s that I wasn’t able to prioritize spending time with my daughter more. That was a problem.”

Yoshida once dreamed of a life as a full-time housewife, but events pushed her to forge a career for herself and succeed as a single mother.

  • [2017.04.03]
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