|Expanding contacts, providing education, and building support
are three of the reasons for the development and growth of Foreign Executive Women
(FEW) Kansai. "FEW allows women to network in a professional way," said
Susan Jones, the publicity director of the FEW Kansai.
women working in Japan, FEW Kansai provides opportunities to exchange information,
take part in educational seminars, enhance skills, and build friendships.
"There are a lot of women's organizations in Japan," said Ms.
Jones. "There's the Foreign Wives Association. There's the Kobe Women's Club.
There are a lot of support networks and different kinds of support networks for
women. There are a lot of resources here for (foreign) women, but ours fits a
niche that other organizations don't cover. We try to be a professional organization;
an organization that will allow women to network in a professional way; that will
allow women to have access to educational opportunities or information that they
might not have otherwise; to have access to seminars that we might organize."
The need for a professionally oriented support network prompted a group
of foreign women executives in the Tokyo area to begin FEW in 1981. It expanded
to the Kansai area in 1991 when a Tokyo member was transferred. From a small core
of 12 women, FEW Kansai has expanded to nearly 100 members.
FEW began as a group for executives, the membership has expanded to include a
cross-section of professions, including accountants, administrators, architects,
artists, consultants, educators, entrepreneurs, executives, lawyers, musicians,
social workers, students and many others. Some members work in Japanese companies,
others at multinational firms, government offices, universities, or out of their
FEW provides its members support to cope with the difficulties
they encounter working in a foreign culture. "There are some concerns foreign
women working in Japan have that are quite different from those Japanese women
face. This doesn't mean we don't have a lot in common, but that we need a place
to discuss issues like 'coping with Japan.'"
include linguistic, cultural, and personal challenges, said Ms. Jones, and the
concerns of each member are slightly different.
According to Ms.
Jones, those working at multinational corporations such as Proctor and Gamble
don't need a great deal of Japanese language skills as English is the language
used in their workplace. "They don't spend a lot of energy on Japanese because
they don't need to."
In contrast, those working at Japanese
organizations need to be able to work in Japanese, she said. In addition, these
women face a less than encouraging work environment. "(Foreign) women at
Japanese companies also need to be able to work within the Japanese business environment,
which is generally less supportive of professional women than multinational firms."
Finally, not all members are currently working in their professions. "Some
members are women whose husbands were transferred and they are here with their
families," said Ms. Jones. "They were hoping to work in Japan, but even
if they aren't working, they want to make sure their skills remain at a professional
According to Ms. Jones, all members find professional
and emotional support at FEW. Non-Japanese women, coming as they do from cultures
with different expectations, find the support of those in similar circumstances
essential. "Only someone that has faced similar difficulties can really help
you through some of the workplace cultural pitfalls," she said.
is the reason FEW restricts membership to non-Japanese women, though Japanese
women are welcome as guests. Ms. Jones said the membership feels FEW needs to
primarily serve its key constituency, foreign women.
raised within the culture, find ways to adapt to it while pursuing a career, said
Ms. Jones. In contrast, FEW members need to first understand the culture in order
to adapt to it. "We (foreign businesswomen) can help each other in many ways."
FEW Kansai members come from countries around the world. Although
English is the lingua franca, less than half of the current membership is from
countries where English is the first language.
The restriction on
membership does not mean FEW Kansai is isolated from Japanese women. It had one
recent meeting with "Yoko-no-kai", a Japanese business women's support
network, and hopes to arrange similar meetings in the future.
of nationality, men are not welcome at FEW meetings, unless they are the invited
speaker. Men have a great many options in Japan, said Ms. Jones. "ACC-J (American
Chamber of Commerce Japan) and other professional groups are great in what they
do," said Ms. Jones. "But most gaijin (foreigner) professional organizations
in Japan are male dominated or male oriented. FEW provides a place for women to
discuss their concerns."
As Ms. Jones said, FEW Kansai gives
women the opportunity to share experiences, hear advice, and maintain and develop
FEW Kansai meetings are held on the last Thursday
of every month. Recent topics have included stress management, examining the issue
of "jobs" versus "work," relaxation techniques, and personal
finances. Future meetings are likely to include such topics as gender in the work
place, coping with work at a Japanese company versus a foreign company in Japan,
and seminars on Internet education. In addition, all Tokyo area FEW meetings are
open to the Kansai members. Of these, the annual career seminar, which provides
information about careers and job hunting in Japan, is the most popular.
More information about FEW Kansai is available at its website www.fewkansai.gol.com
or by contacting email@example.com.