We recently sat down with the Founder of the International Conference for Women in Business, Kaori Sasaki-san to discuss her journey in pursuit of female empowerment, as well as the upcoming conference.
You have had a very accomplished life as a speaker, CEO, author, founder, board member, consultant, advocate, media figure and mother. Can you tell me about what you think had led to such success for you and how it led you here today?
A: I’d need three days to talk about all that! I started working when I was in high school. I haven’t gotten any financial support since then. I think working hard and establishing trust was the key to my success. There were no entrepreneur role models back then, so I had to be very creative and carve out my own path.
I did a lot of “first” things, or at least the first as a woman. I started the very first women’s business network in Japan, the first website for women in Japan, and then the first businesswomen’s conference in Japan, The International Conference for Women in Business.
I really believe that when you think anything is possible, and then surround yourself with people you can learn from, then you just execute, step by step. If you take responsibility for what you’re doing and put the work in, you’ll succeed.
What would you say to organizations that don’t think gender diversity in Japan should be a focus, bearing in mind that Japan sits at 115 on the World Economic Forum’s 2020 Global Gender Gap Index in terms of economic participation and opportunity, the lowest amongst advanced democratic countries?
A: Yes, even though the Equal Opportunity Law was enacted 35 years ago, the gender gap is still huge, meaning that the decision-makers are all men – in politics, in corporations, and the media. So, it’s very difficult for them to give up seats to women. But if they understand that women will help them reach their goals, they will open the door. So, the data is very important. If it’s framed as a gender equality issue, they may do a little, but not really seriously. That is why I’ve been talking about diversity of thought for 30 years and have invented “Diversity Index”. Having women at the table adds diversity of thought, which is very important for an organization that’s trying to develop new products or services, to improve corporate governance, and even to hire the right people. And I don’t mean adding a few token women. I mean weaving women into the corporate fabric at every level, even top management.
The International Conference for Women in Business is at 25 years now – Congratulations on a quarter of a century!
A: Thank you very much. The conference started in 1996. We’ll have the 25th International Conference for Women in Business, on September 27, 2020. It is a celebration! It is the largest diversity conference—and with the longest in history—in Japan. And I am proud to say that the ICWB has had an average satisfaction rate of 98% for the last 24 years. We draw women—and men—from a wide swath of industries, government, academia, journalism, and the arts—not to mention Olympians and astronauts.
This year, as the Conference will be held online, we have participants logging in from all over the world. They join, not only to gain knowledge and information, but to meet and network with other highly motivated women and men. This is the gift of our Conference.
What are you most excited about for this year’s conference?
A: This year’s theme is Go Beyond. Because of COVID-19, we had to make a lot of changes and many are very exciting. Now, we have access to speakers—and participants—from all over the world. This year, we have speakers from New York, Atlanta, NASA, Silicon Valley, Hawaii, Netherlands, Switzerland, Malaysia, and Tokyo so it will be very international, very active, and very stimulating.
Under the Go Beyond theme, we will talk about not only embracing change, but going beyond COVID-19 and also beyond our own perceived boundaries. We all put limitations on ourselves, saying, “I cannot do more”. But if we go beyond our boundaries, then what kind of world would we encounter? We must stretch if we are to grow as individuals.
The event runs for 10 hours and we will talk about business, as well as careers and working executive mothers. For speakers, we have CEOs, Olympians, female and male executives talking about their diversity strategies, and even journalists and artists.
If you are interested in Japanese business or Japanese women and would like to listen to those new stories and ideas, then join us. The event will provide English and Japanese simultaneous interpretation.
Last question, what is your message that you’d like to share with our audience?
A: I really believe that networking is very important for career advancement, but also, networking helps you to expand your possibility and ways of thinking.
I often say that the “net” is just making connections. The important part is doing the “work”, adding value. So, networking is not just exchanging name cards, but learning about each other, and encouraging each other; it is because of your friendship or partnership that both of you move forward. Networking is very important. We can read or study by ourselves to gain knowledge, but our motivation, our energy, our inspiration? This comes from our human connections. So join us.
We’re joining the 25th International Conference for Women in Business on September 27th, to share international perspectives and opportunities for active exchange with todays’ top thought leaders and executives from around the world. Our Managing Director, Sarah Liu, will be speaking at the event on the theme of Go Beyond, as we look ahead to the future. Find out more about the conference here.
Interviewed by Lyndal Hamwood, Senior Marketing Manager at The Dream Collective