Businesswomen discuss challenges of 21st century

Although the Japanese word for wife is “kanai,” literally meaning “in the home,” it should be changed to “kasoto,” or “outside the home,” said former Olympic gymnast and Upper House Councilor Kiyoko Ono in a speech April 25 to members of the 5th World Congress of Women Entrepreneurs.

Ono was the keynote speaker at a symposium for the businesswomen titled, “Growth and Harmony: Women Entrepreneurs Facing 21st Century-style Management,” which was held at the Tokyo International Forum in Yurakucho. The symposium was the last event in a weeklong series of gatherings for businesswomen from around the world.

“Now that the population is aging and the labor pool is shrinking, there is a real need for Japanese women to contribute in the working world. … Women need to know that they can work and still have a balanced life,” Ono said.

Over 70 businesswomen from 15 countries attended the symposium, which was coordinated by Japan’s Committee for the Year 2001. Japanese female entrepreneurs were also well-represented, with more than 40 businesswomen participating.

“Women must liberate themselves in the 21st century. They must develop themselves and have confidence that they can succeed, even in hard times,” said An Baodong, vice president of the Association of China Woman Leaders of Enterprises. Italian businesswoman Laura Gucci echoed this point, saying women “need to learn to trust themselves.”

“Many businesswomen want to label the coming century the age of the woman. But this doesn’t mean pushing men into a corner … we must join together in harmony to be successful,” said event organizer Yuri Konno, chairwoman of the Committee for the Year 2001 and CEO of her own telephone services company. The women also discussed widely shared problems such as balancing work and caring for children and the so-called glass ceiling which prevents many women from rising to high-level corporate positions.