Michiko Achilles says she and her husband have endured a difficult period of juggling work and raising their two daughters by handling it as if they were "playing games."

The rule was simple. The one who finished their work early picked up their two daughters from day care. "Even if the time difference was only a few minutes, the one who finished first had to do it," said Achilles, vice president of SAP Japan Co., with a chuckle. The same went for housework; whoever found a messy room first was the one to clean it up.

By sharing responsibilities with her husband, and with help from their neighbors and her mother when they both could not make it on time, Achilles continued to have challenging jobs, assuming leadership roles as a human resources development expert at global companies such as Citibank Japan Ltd. and Morgan Stanley Securities Co., and 3M. At Aozora Bank, she headed a group of all-male managers as a managing executive officer.