JCCC Business Forum: Calbee’s Yumiko Kamada Talks about Women’s Role in the Workplace
• One of the leading business women in Japan, Yumiko
Kamada of Calbee Inc., discussed the role of working women in Japan, sharing
her experience of work and gender in Japanese business culture, during
a business forum in the Chicago suburb on September 27.
Kamada’s Career at JR East
• Kamada was one of the few female college graduates
that JR East hired for the first time in 1989. The work environment there
was such that there were even no restrooms for women.
• The project (“Tachikawa Station and Omiya Station Development Project”) aimed to change the two train stations as the places for commuters to go through to the places for people to “come together.” Kamada stuck to her idea of creating a new space within the station, something consumers might dream as an ideal train station, but it wasn’t easy to get the concept across.
• Kamada began with changing the physical environment
of the stations: the ceiling and the floor inside the station were replaced
to match with the new lighting scheme; cluttered spaces were cleared;
the vendors’ outdoor units sitting inside the station were moved to the
rooftop so that the public would no longer feel the unpleasant heat blasting
out; and public restrooms, notorious for bad lighting, uncleanliness and
lack of safety, were remodeled into bright, clean places with an aromatic
smell of air freshener. The existing regulation for commercial vendors
– only the JR East group companies could do business in the station premise
- was also changed, allowing all other private businesses to open shops.
• Kamada said alluring commercial vendors to the remodeled
stations was the hardest external hurdle to clear. Nine out of 10 companies
she contacted turned down the invitation, saying that it would hurt their
brand image to have a store at a train station. It was only after the
shops that accepted the invitation began showing good results that a slew
of vendors started to ask to join.
• Kamada remembers, after the success of eki-naka, when
many men said to her: “Oh, so this was what you wanted to do? Why didn’t
you tell us sooner? We could have helped you this way or that way.” Actually,
she did, many times – they just wouldn’t understand it.
• Kamada became President and CEO of JR East Station Retailing in 2005. Subsequently, she returned to JR East Headquarters and was engaged in local business development. In 2013, she was assigned as Deputy Manager of Frontier Service Development Laboratory, Research & Development Center of JR East Group, before joining Calbee in 2015.
Workplace Diversity Policy of Calbee
• According to the Gender Gap Index published by the
World Economic Forum, Japan is the 114th place in 144 major and emerging
economies in gender equality. This reflects Japan’s extremely low ratio
of female participation in management compared to other countries, while
its education and health conditions are of high level.
• Following Kamada’s talk, she was joined by Yamamoto, Watanabe and Miyamori for a panel discussion on the role of working women, with Yamamoto moderating the discussion.
• Grant Thornton LLP, Watanabe’s employer, has been listed
as one of the best 100 U.S. companies for working mothers for 13 years
in a row. Its female employees account 44% of the entire workforce, and
the ratio of female employees in managerial positions is 47%, 20% of which
are in executive positions.
• Beam Suntory, Miyamori’s employer, has the female manager
ratio of 30%, while that of Suntory in Japan is 10% at present.
・ To increase the ratio of female employees in managerial
positions to 40% by 2020.
• The company also has flexible work hours to accommodate female employees, such as a work from home program. Not understanding the employees’ needs will prevent the company from becoming a flexible employer and the company will risk losing its employees, Miyamori stated.
Flexible Work Hours and Telecommuting
• For Watanabe, it is critical to be flexible at work and home as a working mom. She makes it a rule to eat dinner with her child no matter how busy she is. When she has work to do at home, she does it after her child goes to bed; and when she is away from home on a business trip, the internet helps her to connect to her child.
• One of Calbee’s programs offers its child-caring employees
assistance where an emergency – such as the child’s sudden illness, need
to pick up at a daycare, etc. – can be easily accommodated by switching
to work at home.
• Miyamori pointed out the information security and overtime
management as the major issues in telecommuting.
• After joining JR East in April 1989, Kamada was on
assignment at a major department store and station buildings before she
was assigned as a project leader for the “eki-naka” project in 2001. In
2005, she became President of JR East Station Retailing, which launched
and operates “ecute.” Upon assignment as General Manager of the Life-Style
Business Development Headquarters of JR East in 2008, Kamada was engaged
in regional revitalization and childcare services, responsible for the
expansion of a train station-based child care system, renovation of the
Echigo-Yuzawa station and startup of A-Factory in Aomori. In 2013, she
assumed the position of Deputy Manager of Frontier Service Development
Laboratory, Research & Development Center of JR East Group. Resigning
JR East in January 2015, she accepted the invitation and joined Calbee
in the following month in her current capacity as Senior Executive Officer
and General Manager of the New Business Development Group. She has also
been appointed as a member of numerous government councils and committees.
Currently, she is a member of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics/Paralympics Sustainability
Committee and NHK International Broadcast Programs Council, as well as
serving as an outside director and an Ibaraki Prefecture Ambassador.
JCCC Business Forum held at Harper College’s Wojcik Conference Center
Eki-naka (in-the-station) before (L) and after (R). Photo: from Kamada’s presentation