A young Japanese businesswoman looks out on the tall buildings of Tokyo from the street

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Japan is not exactly progressive when it comes to gender diversity—at least, that’s what most probably think. And there is some data that supports that stance. According to McKinsey & Company, from 2013 to 2019, just 15% of working women held a management position, as opposed to 28% of working men.

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That said, according to the same report, many Japanese corporations are making an effort to build and support a corporate structure that supports female workers and provides a healthier work-life balance. About 90% of women who have used those systems claim to be satisfied.

So where, exactly, is the problem for Japanese women in the workforce?

The data tells an interesting story: statistically speaking, men show stronger desire to earn a promotion than women do. The report suggests that closing this gap has four key requirements, one of them being “making role models stronger.”

Kayo Osumi, a successful Indian blogger with over 22,000 followers on Twitter, takes issue with this proposition.

Osumi has no doubts about herself or her goals. Looking at what she’s accomplished, you’d probably think she’s one of these “strong role models.” While that may be true, Osumi herself worries that corporate Japan has the wrong image of female role models.

“I want to make a positive impact on society, and I want to be in women’s leadership,” she says. “But at the same time, I don’t want to live in a society where only women considered to be ‘great’ and ‘strong’ hold such a position. We need more diversity in role models.”

Is it possible for any woman to become a role model? Osumi says yes, and she suggests four simple steps that anyone can take:

  • Be proactive.
  • Don’t quit before you get started.
  • Leverage your experience.
  • Believe in the power of individuals.

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Be proactive.

Now that she’s garnered an audience, many of Osumi’s Indian Japanese followers wonder where she learned to be so productive. Her answer? India.

“One of the biggest culture shocks I experienced in India was colleagues asking me about my salary. In India, they’re open to talking about how much they’re earning–in Japan, we’re not. I realized that it’s actually our right to openly discuss and negotiate our salary, but we don’t exercise that right here in Japan. That said, it’s not easy. You need to get used to talking openly about these things.”

Osumi points out that, when negotiating your salary, it’s important to be clear about expectations and shortcomings. Instead of simply asking your company to raise your salary, for instance, you might say this to your boss: “I want a 2% raise because that’s the market average. But I’m not sure what skills I may be lacking. Can you teach me?

Being proactive  means being unafraid to put your opinion out into the world, to tell others who you are and what you want out of your life and career. Osumi has been practicing this philosophy for years. After two years working in India, she came back to Japan and worked at a major medical company for a month before moving on to Mercari, Inc.

When she first started at Mercari, she was assigned to onboarding new grads from overseas, including thirty IIT Indian engineers. But eventually, she was no longer assigned to India-related projects. It was a disappointment, but rather than passively accept whatever the company assigned her to, she wrote a proposal analyzing the Indian market. Although her proposal wasn’t used right away, she was finally assigned to a project related to India.

A group of office workers at Mercari offices in Japan.
Ms. Osumi (middle row, second from right) with her colleagues at Mercari.

As Osumi puts it, “I’m working on this assignment now because of being proactive on my own time with my blog, Twitter, and YouTube. My boss saw my work online and then recommended me for this role. I’m resilient in pursuing my passion of promoting Indian businesses in Japan. I can’t expect others to be this passionate, of course, but I must honor myself and what I want. This is who I am.”

Don’t quit before you get started.

Creating a successful blog while simultaneously building a following of over 22,000 people on Twitter may seem like a monumental task, but according to Osumi, you don’t have to be Super Woman to get it done. Anyone can achieve similar results if they put in the work.

Osumi admits that the success of many female role models seems to be beyond reach. But through her own career journey, she’s experienced how attainable that success really is–for anyone.

“My family was not rich, and I couldn’t become an exchange student when I really wanted to. I got a scholarship and prepared myself to get into Hokkaido University. I have no special background, but I have continued to do what I can do, such as communicating through my blog.”

Osumi’s journey as a blogger and influencer started at just twenty-six years old back in 2016. While working for a recruiting company in India, she decided to commit to updating her blog daily, without fail, for 365 consecutive days. No excuses.

Capitalizing on the niche of being a female blogger writing about business in India allowed her blog to gradually gain an audience–and eventually more opportunities.

“When I started [my blog], I wasn’t sure what I could expect to come from it at that time, but I knew it would take me somewhere. Continuing whatever it is you choose to do without giving up… It sounds simple, but most people just can’t commit. ”

Leverage your experience.

Discussion of business in India is largely dominated by the male voice and perspective–but Osumi is a female Indian business blogger. Knowing that she was a minority in this sphere, she seized the opportunity to share her own unique perspective.

“My goal is to see Japanese companies win on a global level,” says Osumi. Sharing her voice through her blog is an important part of this goal, as it can help Japanese companies better understand a key foreign market.

Blogging isn’t the only community where Osumi finds herself as a minority. Besides working for Mercari and running her side business, she’s involved with Tabata Daigaku (Tabata University). The community is led by Shintaro Tabata, former executive officer at ZOZO, Inc, one of the biggest online fashion retail websites in Japan. Osumi originally joined the community as a regular member, but today serves as a paid executive board member.

“Tabata University already has many excellent members, but I tried to find something that only I could do among them. What is needed in a large community is a sense of satisfaction and belonging. It is important to develop individual abilities, but it is also to connect with other people, so I worked to strengthen that.”

A photo of blogger Kayo Osumi
Ms. Osumi on the streets of India.

Believing in the power of the individual.

The success Osumi has found, both in her life online as an Indian blogger and in her career, has two sides. Being an Indian blogger is mostly for fun, while her Mercari career is about putting her skills to work for a meaningful impact on society–kokorozashi.

“I like the internet because everyone can join the conversation without vested interest. However, I have no desire to be buzzworthy, nor do I have any intention to become famous. I want to be recognized as a professional. At the same time, I also know that what people see of me online matters. I do this stuff online simply because I want as many people as possible to feel a connection with India.”

That’s a goal that anyone could pursue, and even achieve. In this way, Osumi is right: any woman can become a role model if they are proactive, persistent, committed, and passionate.

Ultimately, it’s all about the choices that you make. If you’re looking to make a splash as a woman in Japan, be proactive. Never give up on yourself. Embrace your unique experiences, and believe in your capabilities as an individual. You may be surprised where that takes you.

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