Women have always faced more obstacles than men on the path to promotion, but an increasingly flexible working culture means there’s more room for female voices than ever before.

And the numbers don’t lie.

Since 2020, almost half of entrepreneurs in the US are women. And 2023 saw the percentage of Fortune 500 companies with women CEOs shift from 8 to 10%, the first increase in years. Encouraging news, but there is still much progress to be made.

While “the glass ceiling” has been used to explain why so few women sit in top leadership roles, for many people, the struggle is less about landing a job, and more about climbing the corporate ladder once they’re there.

For this, “the broken rung” is more apt. Support can be missing at any stage, not just at the top.

We spoke with GLOBIS faculty to ask what they think has helped them as women to navigate corporate leadership and the pressures of the modern business world.

What trait do you think is key to finding success as a woman in leadership?

Courage, finding a positive mindset, following your heart, and thinking with your own head.

Aiste Dewulf

Reflecting on my own experiences, I would say that “resilience” is of the utmost importance. Life is full of unexpected events, especially for women, who often face endless concerns due to changes in life stages—from how they manage their time to health-related issues.

For instance, I have gone through the experience of losing my husband. In such times, it’s easy to be tormented by thoughts like, “It’s all my fault” or, “This pain will last forever.” However, that is not the case. When faced with challenges and adversity, it’s crucial how well you can organize things, control your emotions, and respond flexibly. I believe that developing leadership to expand the circle of influence that you can control is important for women.

Sonoko Igarashi

Know when and where to seek help.

Everyone needs help at different points in their lives. For some, the act of seeking help may be difficult due to multiple challenges. Being able to identify one’s current challenges and what help is needed is crucial, besides identifying where or whom one could approach for support.

Find the courage to pursue personal development alongside professional development.

This is not just for women but also applies to everyone in the workforce. Personal development is very important as it helps us to become more well-rounded, especially when we ascend into a leadership role.

Having a personal life outside of one’s career is important as it allows one to be more grounded in the multiple roles they take on (e.g. a daughter, a spouse, a mother, an aunt, a caregiver to a chronically ill family member, the kind lady across the street, the weekend volunteer)

Michelle Lim

Looking back on your career, what advice would you give to aspiring women leaders in the business world?

I would say “never give up”. There are so many diverse perceptions and norms of how women should or shouldn’t be depending on the family, culture, religion, country, or educational system. Regardless of what others say, there is always a way to move forward. It might not be possible to change what others think or do, but it’s always possible to change your own thoughts and course of action. People can always tell when you are truly committed and there will always be people who share your dreams.

Aiste Dewulf

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Japan is currently ranked 125/146 countries according to the 2023 Global Gender Gap Report. What do you think needs to change to better support career and leadership opportunities for women within the nation?

This is truly a complex issue. First and foremost, it is necessary for all employees to recognize the facts and understand the potential negative consequences that can arise if the current situation persists. Furthermore, while recognizing that the stages at which companies are at vary. One characteristic that seems to persist among companies that have struggled with this issue for years without resolution is a certain business nature. Specifically, it’s about “what value is being delivered to customers and how.”

Companies built on traditional hospitality, such as entertainment dinners or building relationships through golf on weekends, naturally make it difficult for women to thrive. However, the reality is that many such companies still exist. What value are we providing? How do we deliver it to our customers? By re-examining the essence of our business, we could change the way we use time and the way we work, creating an environment more conducive to women, and thereby truly enhancing the competitive edge of our business.

Sonoko Igarashi

What are your tips for prioritizing and managing your time effectively, especially when juggling multiple responsibilities?

Working in a psychologically safe working environment has helped our team members have more honest conversations about balancing our professional and personal needs. In anyone’s absence, our team can quickly mobilize resources to manage work responsibilities.

Have a clear calendar to facilitate planning and communication with your team.

I find it important to have a good personal calendar and professional calendar with well-documented events, commitments, and dates for better decision making. When I plan major events or projects, I will do my best to communicate to my team members that I will be occupied on certain dates; and vice-versa with family members especially during busy months at work like October (Mental Health Month).

Of course there will be times when compromises must be made so we can all manage expectations and deliver results. But taking that first step in communicating our needs in a safe environment has helped me avoid experiencing the mental conflict of being at work and regretting the decision to skip a family event. The trust built through such communication can help team members become more willingly supportive of one another.

Learn when you’re most productive.
When I am in my hyperfocus mode, I am at least 2x more productive. After years of working across three time zones, I found that late nights and the lack of interruptions worked best for me.

I would usually schedule certain types of work that I could do on my own later in the night and ensure the items are in their inbox first thing in the morning for my team to work on.
While this might be my ideal work situation, it is important to also adapt to the norm and adjust when necessary (e.g. all meetings between working hours).

Michelle Lim

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