Corporate Blog

Corporate Blog

Empowering Women: Insights from Female Leaders on International Women's Day

March 08, 2024

Despite the increasing progress of women's advancement in society, Japan still grapples with significant challenges. Last year, the country ranked 125th out of 146 countries on the Gender Gap Index *1, highlighting current barriers to achieving gender equality.

Aligned with our mission to "deliver happy moments to everyone while creating value," we actively pursue initiatives that promote diversity and gender equality. Recognizing these efforts as key elements to our leadership agenda, we are committed to proactively engaging in fostering an inclusive workplace environment.

As part of our commitment to promoting women's empowerment, we have focused on increasing female representation within our organization. In 2023, our ratio of female officers*2 was 33.3%, surpassing the Japanese government's target of 30% by 2030. Additionally, we have implemented training programs to develop female managers, exceeding our 2025 target of 6% ahead of schedule in 2021. Looking ahead, we aim to further increase female representation to 20% by 2030.

As our company endeavors to create a workplace where employees from diverse backgrounds can fully realize their potential, what steps are necessary to fully embody this vision and enable both the company and its employees to contribute meaningfully to society? In celebration of International Women's Day, four women from our company gathered to discuss and share their perspectives.

Breaking Barriers: Advancing Women's Careers Beyond the Few

— First, let us start from hearing about the career path that you each have been leading.

Ebihara: I initially joined the company as a sales representative based in a branch office. After that I worked for about 15 years in marketing. Recognizing the importance of communication in driving company growth, I shifted my career focus and now oversee internal communication in the Public Relations Department.

Awata: I joined the company because I wanted to be involved in sales. Over time, I gained experience in chain store merchandising and sales planning at the head office. Despite taking maternity leave twice, I became an executive secretary, which I continue to this day.

Watanabe: My decision to join this company was driven solely by my love for Coca-Cola. I was thrilled to be a part of the Coca-Cola business, so I didn't have a specific job in mind. Throughout my tenure here, I've embraced various roles, switching departments six times. This experience taught me to dive in without hesitation, regardless of the field.

Machida: I am a recent mid-career hire. After studying in the United States, I began my career in an audit firm, specializing in internal control. When I joined Coca-Cola Bottlers Japan, I was impressed by the company's commitment to strengthening its internal structure, particularly through the establishment of a dedicated governance department.

— Do you ever feel that your career to date might not have been possible if you had been working in Japan a few decades ago?

Ebihara: When I entered the workforce, it was uncommon to see many women of my generation balancing a career while raising children. We were a minority in the Japanese labor force. During that time, there was a prevailing notion that the only women who could pursue a career were those who were exceptionally talented or had extensive support from their parents to juggle work and childcare responsibilities.

Machida: Indeed, not so long ago, there was still a general sense that you had to sacrifice your personal life and devote all your energy into work in order to move your way up.

Watanabe: For some time, the Japanese workplace has been perceived as lacking gender balance. While I personally haven't felt this to a significant extent, I've observed situations, such as being in meetings surrounded by men, that suggest many women may feel pressured and hesitant to speak out in such male-dominated environments.

Ebihara: However, the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly altered the trajectory of society as a whole.

Awata: The widespread adoption of remote work as the new standard is a significant shift. Personally, I am grateful for the opportunity to work from home, especially considering the needs of my young child. Looking back, I realize that aspects of my previous work routine, such as commuting to the office five days a week, may have been overly demanding and challenging to manage effectively.

Making Choices that Create "Happy moments" at Work

— While the workplace environment has evolved to become more accommodating to employees compared to the past, we still observe numerous challenges for women entering the labor force today. What barriers do you believe are hindering women from advancing and establishing successful careers?

Awata: The traditional gender-based division of roles, where men primarily work outside the home while women take on housework and childcare, remains deeply ingrained in society. Hearing the perspectives of those around me, I often pondered why the burden of hard work seemed to fall disproportionately on mothers.

Ebihara: In fact, if you ask them candidly, you may discover that many men also desire to spend more time with their children rather than solely focusing on work.

Watanabe: As someone who is single and does not have children, I occasionally feel that I am viewed solely as a female employee who can work full-time because I am not balancing childcare responsibilities.

Machida: I've heard of companies where single female employees and those who are raising children are initially assigned different duties. It seems rather absurd, doesn't it, upon reflection?

— How do you feel about the current state of our company's working environment?

Awata: I believe this company demonstrates a profound understanding of working women who are balancing their careers with raising children. Whenever I meet with supervisors and officers, they consistently emphasize the importance of prioritizing my children.

Machida: The majority of members in my department are currently raising children. I've observed male colleagues leaving work in the middle of the day to attend to their child's needs, such as when they have a fever or need taking to after-school classes. Older colleagues may also leave work to accompany a family member to the hospital. In this company, there's a culture of mutual support that enables everyone to achieve their desired work-life balance, irrespective of gender or age.

Ebihara: I find solace in our corporate mission of "delivering happy moments to everyone." I believe our culture of mutual support, aimed at ensuring each other's happiness, is deeply ingrained in the workplace. Even the most well-designed systems would be futile without a culture that empowers individuals to utilize them according to their own needs and preferences.

Watanabe: I also sense a strong camaraderie within Coca-Cola Bottlers Japan. It's a company where employees who value interpersonal connections and treat each other with respect come together.

Turning Troubles into Smiles: Avoiding Misunderstandings

— Machida-san, Awata-san and Ebihara-san have experience taking maternity and childcare leaves. Did you feel any anxiety or resistance about taking them?

Machida: During my tenure at my previous company, I took maternity and childcare leave. Fortunately, my supervisor had also taken maternity leave before me and was incredibly understanding. This support made me feel at ease when it was my turn to take leave.

Awata: Having role models has had a significant impact on me. Since 2017, when several bottlers merged to form Coca-Cola Bottlers Japan, I've had the opportunity to meet many working mothers who served as inspiring role models. Their presence made it easier for me to navigate taking maternity and childcare leave without feeling overwhelmed.

Ebihara: During my second pregnancy, I experienced a sudden hemorrhage and required immediate hospitalization. During this challenging time, a senior colleague who had previously managed me stepped in to support me. Despite her own workload, she seamlessly took over my tasks, relieving me of stress. I initially felt guilty for inconveniencing her, but now, when we meet, I can humorously acknowledge the turmoil I caused her, and we share smiles without any lingering hard feelings. It's rare to find workplaces where such strong relationships, built on mutual support, flourish.

Awata: I have often found myself feeling apologetic for inconveniencing others, even when it's not necessary. For example, when I have to pause work to tend to my child's sudden illness, this feeling of guilt lingers. However, my supervisor once reassured me with straightforward words: "You don't have to think that way!" Those simple yet kind words have brought me immense relief.

— Speaking from the standpoint of someone holding a managerial position, how do you connect with your team members who are dealing with child-rearing or nursing care?

Watanabe: I prioritize the individual's own preferences above all else. I believe in asking team members about the type of work they wish to undertake and their desired workload. By engaging in such conversations, I can better understand their aspirations and support them in achieving their goals. This approach benefits everyone involved. If management assigns tasks based on assumptions or if employees are hesitant to express their preferences, they may end up in roles or working styles that do not align with their desires. When consideration and open communication are lacking, progress becomes hindered. It's akin to putting the cart before the horse, leading to inefficiency and dissatisfaction.

Ebihara: In that regard, I believe it's crucial for team members to reflect on what they genuinely want to pursue. Each person's aspirations may evolve over time or in response to changing circumstances. For instance, someone might prioritize achieving a work-life balance to dedicate ample time to childcare, while another may seek new challenges when presented with additional time. Creating an environment where open and honest discussions about our intentions are encouraged fosters a supportive workplace culture.

— International Women's Day is designated as a day to think about women's way of life. What do you all think would be necessary for women to achieve a better way of life?

Awata: While delving into the details of International Women's Day, I came across a report highlighting that many women are not inclined to occupy positions where they are compelled to work long hours due to self-imposed responsibilities, often associated with traditional gender roles. Although International Women's Day primarily focuses on women, I believe it's an opportunity for men to reassess their own work styles and contribute to a better work-life balance for everyone.

Machida: I believe fostering a workplace environment where individuals' lifestyles are respected, regardless of gender, would be mutually beneficial. We are fortunate to work for a listed company that offers a variety of support programs aimed at promoting comfortable and stress-free work environments. However, if your partner is employed by a company with a corporate culture that lacks consideration for employees' personal lives, they may struggle to share household responsibilities, childcare duties, and other non-work-related burdens. To alleviate the challenges faced by both women and men, societal change is necessary to create a world where work-life balance is more attainable for everyone.

Ebihara: Regardless of marital status or parental responsibilities, I would like to see a society where each individual's choices are honored and respected. Additionally, I've observed that there are still relatively few individuals who maintain their vigor and enthusiasm for work beyond the age of 60. Looking ahead, I believe it's crucial to establish an environment where people can continue to work energetically, regardless of their age.

Watanabe: My mother started working when she was 50, and just the other day, she got promoted at the age of 70. She inspires me and gives me the courage and assurance that I also can continue to shine and lead an active life no matter how old I become. Regarding myself, I would like to continue seeking new possibilities to grow, not only in what I do in my work at the company, but also in whatever else piques my interest.


*2 Officers under the Companies Act

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