I applied and earned a Monbukagakusho MEXT Scholarship, which provided me with the unique and wonderful opportunity to research female entrepreneurship and empowerment in Japan. As this was part of my initial application, it has since evolved since arriving in Japan. Nevertheless, it is a good framework and starting point for my chosen area of research.
As a graduate of political economy at UC Berkeley and a proud marketer at three startups since college, I would like to conduct a cross-cultural analysis of female entrepreneurship in Tokyo and Silicon Valley. The hub of technology innovation, Silicon Valley is making the world a more connected place. Simultaneously, Japan is moving towards becoming a more global society, increasing the number of women in the workforce, and developing a healthier entrepreneurial environment.
Currently, Japan has one of the lowest female participation rates in the world, coupled with a reeling Japanese economy and a rapidly declining birth rate. Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, is implementing a three-pronged approach of fiscal stimulus, monetary easing, and structural reforms, such as raising the proportion of mothers who return to work after the birth of their first child to 55 percent.
By 2020, Mr. Abe wants women to occupy 30% of all leadership positions, including members of parliament, heads of local government, and corporate executives.
With Abenomics in place, the central bank’s monetary easing, and corporate buy-in to support more women in the workforce, Japan is setting the stage for more females to start businesses and join the workforce.
While Japanese people have traditionally been more wary of risking their personal savings to start a company and potentially see it fail, more women are embarking on this non-traditional path to help those around them. One woman, Kyoko Higashiyama, made it a rule at her company to create opportunities for women to work full-time and raise children. Her company specializes in precision metalwork drilling in Higashi-Osaka, and 75% of her employees are mothers, some single mothers, with young children who are in elementary school.
Another woman, Mari Tobita, began selling shoes on her website, “912Shop,” for those with tiny and large feet in 2010. She even specializes in catering to the transgender market and has successfully been selling online for over twelve years. Both women have discovered and acted upon their ideas in a way that helps society.
In Silicon Valley, women in top leadership positions and startup founders are encouraging young women to achieve more. One way is through books such as Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg, which encourages women to break through their own limitations and act courageously by speaking up, sharing difficult topics, and enlightening people with our ideas.
Another way is through online organizations such as Female Entrepreneur Association, a project founded by Carrie Green in 2011 to champion female entrepreneurs all over the world by publishing their stories and providing them with a community.
After college, I immediately joined Google and became enthralled with the booming startup world in Silicon Valley. Not only have I attended countless networking groups through which I have developed strong relationships with both male and female entrepreneurs, but I have also volunteered at Women 2.0, an organization dedicated to the next generation of technology leaders. Through this organization, I have met many inspiring female entrepreneurs—a subset of the Silicon Valley population that is now gaining more recognition and venture capital funding.
Although they face unique personal and professional challenges such as balancing a partner or family with their full-time startup, the ones I have met are incredibly mature, maintain a positive outlook, and continue working extremely hard to achieve their goals. With immense admiration for the female entrepreneurs I have met, I hope to develop similar bonds with successful Japanese women and help encourage more women to embark on a new journey of independence and freedom.