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Three Tips for a Young Female Leader in Japan

Updated: Nov 28, 2020

Although the movement to close the gender gap has geared up across the globe, women still remain underrepresented in modern societies. I live in Japan, a patriarchal and hierarchical society where women are the minority in leadership and face several gender barriers in the workplace. According to the database available by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, women held only 8.9 % of management roles in 2018 in the pharmaceutical industry across Japan. As a young female leader and a physician, I was tasked with the role of supervising older people, both male and female, with longer industrial experience than myself in my corporate career.

While being a young female leader is an exciting experience, it also poses special challenges like gaining their respect and providing guidance in a hierarchical society. A few years ago, I had the privilege of sitting down with one of the greatest young leaders, a physician, scientist and businessman who had become a CEO for one of the largest and well-respected pharmaceutical companies in his early 40’s. This is quite a young age to become a CEO for a Fortune 500 company, or such a large organization in the industry, especially in this industry requiring higher expertise and technical knowledge. Meaning it usually takes longer years of hard work to win senior positions. As we talked about being young and a leader, he shared three important tips that I would also like to share with you.

1) Understand the Power of Influence and Reflect on How You Influence Others

As a young person acquiring better leadership skills, you need to understand the power of influence that a leader has to a large group of people. If you want to influence others, do it from their point of view, not yours. By understanding and accepting their perspectives, you are able to phrase or present yourself in a manner that others can resonate with. Remember you are part of the team. You are able to deliver more as a team as opposed to working solo.

It is important to reflect how much of an impact you had on others at the end of each day to identify areas of improvement. When you reflect on your leadership every day, you will understand the kind of influence you have on your team and how you can become better at it. It will help you guide them to achieve your teams goals in the long run.

2) Have a Clear Purpose

People will usually treat you differently because of your age and/or gender. However, being young and female does not mean you have to let everything slip by. When you have a clear purpose of why you do what you do for life, people will start respecting you, including those who are older, smarter, or even more experienced than yourself. Be responsible for every action and learn to hold yourself accountable. Your older and smarter colleagues need to see that you are being respectful in your roles as a leader. Remember that respect takes time to be earned, and it can never be forced.

3) Networking to Build Supportive Relationships

As you grow into your career, you will need to network and build relationships with others. Networking will enable you as a young leader to find co-leaders. The people that you interact with during this journey will determine the kind of a leader you become. As a young leader, take time to identify and befriend exemplary members on your team. They will play a critical role in making you a better leader and expanding your influence on the ground. Apart from being your early adopters, they will also be your cheerleaders. Learn how to strengthen relationships within your team. They are the people on the ground who will be selling your agenda and speaking for you.

In a Nutshell

Being a young female leader in a patriarchal and hierarchical society is not easy. You will be faced with the challenge of providing leadership to people who are older and/or more experienced than yourself. Remember you won the current leadership position because you are capable of leading, so you need to demonstrate your leadership skills and demonstrate that you are fit for the position. Three tips: 1) Understand the power of influence and reflect on how you influence others, 2) have a clear purpose for why you do what you do, and 3) network to build supportive relationships.

I hope that this piece of writing will help young female leaders in the pharmaceutical industry, as they progress to higher positions. If you find it useful, please feel free to share with those who might benefit from it. Thank you!

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