September 3, 2015 — Meet: Tsukiko Tsukahara, Vice President of Catalyst Japan. Tsukiko has an MBA from Amos Tuck School of Business, Dartmouth College, and a BA in Economics from Tokyo University. She is married with three young children.
How to succeed in business while raising a family (a challenge for all women, particularly in Japan): It’s still challenging to manage both raising a family and being successful at work.
What I’ve tried to keep in mind is to avoid pitting childcare against work. I was quite a workaholic when I was single. I spent almost 100% of my time on work. Even after I married, both my husband and I were just working very hard. But that all changed once we had our first child.
Luckily I had access to a good daycare facility where I felt comfortable leaving my son, and I was able to return to work quite soon after giving birth. But I still needed to leave work to drop him off and pick him up and I needed some time with him at home. I wanted to spend at least 6 out of 24 hours with my son, but doing so required me to work very differently from before. I decided to negotiate a part-time work schedule with my firm, but it was still challenging since I was a consultant and expected to be available to my clients 24 hours a day. I needed to learn how to drastically improve my own productivity, the distribution of my entire team’s workflow as a manager, and my communication skills with my team. Motherhood has improved my time management skills a lot!
By the time my next two children came along, my parents, who had helped us a lot with childcare, were reaching the age where they needed my help. So I needed much more flexibility and predictability in my schedule. After discussing it with my employer, I decided to work partly from home, and was ultimately able to work flexibly while keeping my career on track. I am lucky; I had a good job and a sympathetic employer. But I also think I became a more innovative employee. This kind of flexibility and humanity on the part of organizations benefits both employees and their companies.
Work/family solutions that work: Flexibility has helped me a lot. I was essentially allowed to work at home. I did not always stick to working “at home” but I did stick to working flexibly. Therefore I went out to meet people when I judged I would have greater productivity with in-person meetings, and I stayed at home working or joining conference calls when I found that more productive.
I didn’t actually work fewer hours; I just needed flexibility to be able to spend time with my family. For example I was happy to work after my children went to bed, and I frequently joined overseas phone calls late at night.
My husband started taking more responsibility for childcare after our second and third children were born. My husband is also a business consultant and he is always busy, but he frequently takes the children in morning and drops them off at daycare so that I can start work early. I pick the children up at the end of the day and take care of them in the evening.
Since neither of us enjoys or has time for housework, we are lucky to have the resources to hire a housekeeper. Because we can no longer rely on our parents, this is very helpful as a backup childcare option as well. We try to have meals together as a family.
What companies can do to help working parents: Companies should understand it’s in their interests for all employees facing various family issues, including childcare and elder care, to be able to continue to work. They should work with employees to find the right balance.
Companies should clearly define their goals in promoting work-life effectiveness. It’s not fair to discriminate against employees for taking care of their families. But it’s also not necessarily good business to suggest that everyone work part-time. Often these issues need to be worked out on a case-by-case basis, but companies should at least keep open minds and be willing to have these conversations. There’s usually a solution that will work better for everyone.
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