It is still a rarity when a woman strolls into a giant Japanese company as a consultant. But because it is still a rarity, women can take advantage of such situation. I did just that recently when I conducted a series of workplace design/ change management workshop. When I put together a team of 4 people of most appropriate combined skill sets, we turned out to be all women.
Two interior designer/architects, one business coach and me. It was funny how the client company executives reacted when one by one, they arrived at the conference room. We had the conference room all re-arranged to suit the needs of workshops, so that threw them off for a start. They have been with the company for 20 to 30 years, but they have never seen any conference room furniture moved around like that. And then when they saw women greeting them, they acted really surprised. They all first stopped at the entrance. Couple of them walked back out of the room. (To gain their composure?) And when they were seated, they were visibly rigid, uncomfortable.
I bet the way we approached them helped. We didn’t flex our muscle and say, we’re the boss! We simply asked them questions, and within few minutes they begun to relax, and we had great sessions. They didn’t want to stop when the time was up, and we ended up talking throughout the lunch hour until they absolutely had to go to their next separate meetings.
Things are changing among professional Japanese women, at least around me. Many professional Japanese women in their mid 30’s and older tend to be thorny, abrasive, trying to prove themselves. But younger ones, especially women in 20’s are relaxed, more interested in helping people around them than making statements. I love working with these women, and I think this past workshops with very traditional Japanese company proved people in general love working with these women. And because we are still rarity, the impact we make is greater.