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Showa Women’s University President Mariko Bando

by Judit Kawaguchi

Mariko Bando, 64, is the president of Showa Women’s University in Tokyo. She is also a best-selling author with more than 30 books under her belt, including “The Dignity of a Woman,” which has sold over 3 million copies. An advocate of women’s rights, Bando is director of the Japan National Committee of UNIFEM (United Nations Development Fund for Women). Her distinguished career has had many highlights. She was the first woman to join the prime minister’s office as a career bureaucrat in 1969, where she served the government for 34 years. In 1995, she became vice governor of Saitama Prefecture and in 1998, she was appointed consul general of Japan in Brisbane, Australia, the only woman ever to hold such a post. From 2001 until 2003, she was director general of the Bureau for Gender Equality in then-prime minister Junichiro Koizumi’s cabinet. Bando is equally successful in her private life: She’s happily married with two children, and is well-known for her mentoring skills, which have earned her the respect and love of people young and old.

Dignity means that when you’re breaking the glass ceiling, you do it very carefully to make sure that the shards don’t hurt anyone. And afterward, of course, you pick up the pieces. In Japan, we have “bamboo” barriers that keep women out of the circle of power. Luckily, bamboo is flexible: So, as long as you are, too, you can squeeze your way into the center, just like a little snake or lizard.

I never felt inferior to men. At school I knew the answers as well as any boy, so I grew up thinking that women and men had the same potential. The challenge is to know oneself. I quickly realized that I’d do better at work than in the kitchen.

Subordinates, especially women, must educate their bosses. The reality is that company rules and modes of behavior were set by men for men. Even today, few bosses know how to handle women workers. Men have their own unspoken understanding of the way a company system operates, but women usually need more verbal communication. The trouble is, most supervisors are men, and they are worried about giving feedback to women. They are scared of being labeled “too tough” or even of being accused of sexual harassment. Yet if a woman wants to grow, she must teach her bosses how to talk to her in a way that she understands. One should never assume that others know what one means.

Adults get jobs but it’s the work that matures the person. I grew up thanks to my job and my colleagues.

Nobody remembers your failures as well as you do. I couldn’t forgive myself when I didn’t do a job well. I was a very good student, so I assumed that I’d do well at work. But for the first decade of working, I made a lot of mistakes. Now I know that I was too tough on myself. You don’t have to be!

No matter what happens or how nice your husband may be, keep your job! In the 20th century, most Japanese women, unfortunately, quit their jobs after they got married or had children. So much talent and possibility was lost. I hope that the 21st-century lifestyle is about women being able to have a family while continuing to work. It can be done and it’s worth it!

Don’t make excuses for yourself. Most people shift the blame when things don’t go well for them. Don’t be such a person. Look at yourself from a distance so you can see your situation for the way it is, and improve it. Work on yourself before you ask others to do overtime.

When you meet a woman with Queen Bee Syndrome, you must take the stings with smiles and bring her more nectar than any worker bee, ever. Sadly, women in senior positions often look at younger women as competition and instead of supporting them, they make their lives even tougher. “I suffered a lot to get here, so you should, too!” is their attitude. These queen bees, ironically, often assume that a man can do a better job than a woman, so they promote men over women. It’s a very sad predicament for everyone, and it shows that these queens don’t have enough confidence in themselves. They take pleasure in refusing to help or even sabotaging other women. Only consistent good job performance can convince such bees of your worth; and if not, don’t worry as their reigns always come to a bitter end. I’m not suggesting there’ll be sweet revenge — just telling you to let nature take its course.

The biggest mistake women make is to quit their jobs when things get tough. This way they never taste the happiness of success and a job well done, which they surely would do a few years down the line. I never thought about quitting a job, and somehow the struggling turned into rewarding challenges that I could never have dreamed about. Hang in there for dear life and it will be worthwhile!

Small, boring, seemingly unimportant details create a big beautiful picture. It’s not a once-in-a-while brilliant work performance that matters the most, it’s your everyday behavior that makes people want to work with you. If you’re always on time; if you’re polite, helpful, reliable and keep improving — your colleagues will want you on their team and you will be given more and more responsibility.

Don’t be afraid of getting older! Many people, especially women, worry about aging. But if I had a chance to be younger again, I’d say, “No, thank you!” My 20s were exciting but they were all about hard work and mistakes. The 30s were much better, as I understood my job and how to be a better mother and wife. My 40s were fantastic as I had responsibilities as a team leader — and since then, I feel that with every year I contribute more. That’s happiness.

Judit Kawaguchi loves to listen. She is a volunteer counselor and a TV reporter on NHK’s “journeys in japan” Learn more at: http://juditfan.blog58.fc2.com/ Twitter: judittokyo