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Number 1 Shimbun

Profile: Keiko Packard

ONE WOMAN’S ROAD TO INDEPENDENCE
IN THE JAPANESE WORKPLACE

 

09-1

 

SUVENDRINI KAKUCHI

 

Not so long ago it was normal for male bosses to make insensitive comments to female employees. Keiko Packard has heard her share. Recently, Packard, an active Associate Member of the FCCJ and the founder and president of KIP, a non-profit organization promoting global education, recalled these experiences in the early days of her career.

After working a decade in various roles at a prestigious jewellery company, Ms. Packard was headhunted as chief sales promoter for a company which was about to start a new business. When she told her men friends about this opportunity, their comments were less than welcoming.

“You’ll never do it. After all, you’re a woman, so the stakes are too high.” Or “Become a consultant? Is that real work?” And sometimes, “Start an independent company?! Think carefully.”

 


Turning the tide

Packard explains how she drew on her reserves of grit and intelligence to turn this frustrating environment in her favour.

“After a while, I figured it all out,” she recalled. “The most momentous time of my career was when I became sure of my expertise and effort. Once I realized I mattered to the company, I could stand up for myself and survive the male-dominated corporate culture.”

This hard-earned lesson was also linked to her awareness of the mindset of the older male managers around her. For example, at one point Packard was a member of a team handling a project to develop a line of products for younger customers.

“This new jewellery was affordable and trendy and aimed to capture the growing market of working women that emerged in the early eighties. Our plan signalled a major revolution for the company traditionally associated with high-end, exclusive products,” she explained.

The new line brought young people into the stores and exposed them to fashion-jewellery accessories.

 


Understanding from above

That experience gave Packard new confidence, helped by the support and understanding of a sympathetic and reliable male boss.

 

“My talent was recognized by my male senior. Encouraged by him, I travelled to international conferences and represented the company in the global marketplace.”


Going solo

When Packard set up her own consultancy, she recalls, “I was strongly attracted to making my own career on my own terms in Japan’s conservative business world, even though most of my male colleagues reacted as if I was crazy.”

Later on, Packard’s marriage to an American banker led to a long stay in Hong Kong, where she learned the importance of not only listening to different opinions but also voicing her own. “Gender equality follows a similar pattern. We need to recognize the difference between men and women and at the same time realise the importance of respecting each other,” she said.


Coming home

Soon after returning to Japan with her family, Ms. Packard continued her activities in cultural instruction and guiding, co-teaching a course on Japanese culture, and for eight years working as the onsite director for a science and engineering summer program funded by the US government.

As well as offering cultural guiding services for academic and business leaders from overseas, Ms Packard is currently devoting her time to KIP, a group that focuses on discussion and education aimed at helping college age and young professionals to understand global civic issues and to integrate more deeply with their global peers at universities in the United States, Asia and Australia.

 

09-2

 

“My talent was recognized by my male senior. Encouraged by him, I travelled to international conferences and represented
the company in the global marketplace.”

 

 


Selective lens

These goals are important because, Keiko Packard believes, information in Japan is absorbed through a selective prism. She hopes that the KIP program, which she has run for nearly 13 years, will contribute to a new generation of Japanese who do not rely on learning through manuals, but rather by develop their own, individualized strategies.

Gender is still an issue, even at KIP, but Ms. Packard is increasingly seeing college women express themselves and push themselves forward. Ms. Packard tells these young women not to forget who they are. As she puts it, “It’s fine to pour tea for colleagues, as long as there are equal opportunities for both genders to advance.”

Our discussion of gender issues took an interesting turn as we discussed the social patterns deep-rooted in paternalistic Asian society. Packard emphasized the importance of strengthening one’s own determination.

“I never wanted to be seen as a victim,” explained Ms Packard. “I tended to respond directly when asked for my opinions, an attitude that sometimes resulted in embarrassing moments. But I would sleep on such incidents and return to work the next day – where I would still stick to my point.”

Maintaining that spirit helped Packard acquire a sense of freedom from gender pressures at work. As she sees it now, “Once I had learned to cope and survive as an individual, I learned to become a leader.”

We ended our conversation with her wise words: “I will be happy when the gender equality debate is based not on the divi- sions between women and men but rather seen from the broad perspective of human beings, for that is who we are.”


● Suvendrini Kakuchi
is Tokyo Correspondent for University World News in the UK.

Published in: September 2020

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