Japanese Execs Visit K-School

Attend Seminar Promoting Women's Equality in Work Force

Combining lectures with river-rafting and a traditional dance performance, an innovative Kennedy School-sponsored seminar for Japanese executives this week has been promoting women's equality in the Japanese work force.

"This is an active event," said Yuko Uchiwaka, an organizer. "It encourages [the participants] to take risks."

Uchiwaka said the trip emphasizes adventure, and is a seminar on "experiencing" as much as on learning.

As their official trip outside of the country, "the concept [of the meeting] is to play hard and work hard," said Uchikawa. "This [kind of seminar] is something they're not used to. They [are used to] only work[ing] hard."

Yasko Nishimara, a founder of the group conducting the seminar, agreed. "It is important for us to physically do things, and translate it into intellectual [pursuits]," she said.

The members of the group have been campaigning for increased participation by women in the Japanese work force for the past ten to 20 years.

As veterans of the women's rights struggle in Japan, members said they have used this trip as a chance to exchange opinions and tactics with American businesswomen.

Japan's push for women's economic equality has much more recent roots than in the U.S. "The progress in Japan is much slower," Uchiwaka said.

"We've just stepped out of being wives to become businesswomen," said Yasko Nishimara.

Lois Kelly, senior vice president at the Bank of Boston, agreed that Japan lags behind the U.S. in putting women into management positions.

Speaking in an afternoon panel yesterday, she listed "assertive and initiative" as qualities that are easier for women to exercise in the U.S. than in Japan.

The stereotype of a Japanese woman as weak and passive is something that Nishimara hopes that the group will work to overturn.

"The emphasis has always been on cute women," Nishimara said. "We want to be sophisticated and contributional to society."