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【Role Model Interview】Kathy Matsui

Role Model Interview vol.24 Kathy Matsui

Writer: Maaya Sato

Women in Technology Japan (WITJ)’s mission is to close the gender gap in tech and promote diversity and inclusion in Japan.

Our goal is to create a world where women can have the courage to truly shine and find employment in their ideal profession or industry and help as many women as possible to know about the possibilities of working in the IT industry. 

This series features people working on the cutting edge of the IT industry, sharing their enthusiasm, thoughts, experiences, and stories.

Q1. Can you tell us your background?

My name is Kathy Matsui. I was born in California, USA, and raised by Japanese parents. I graduated from Harvard University and obtained a master’s degree from Johns Hopkins University. I started my career in Japan at Barclays Securities after which I was headhunted by Goldman Sachs, where I eventually rose to become the first female partner in Japan. Currently, I serve as the representative of MPower Partners Fund L.P., which I co-founded with Yumiko Murakami and Mika Seki in 2021.

Q2. How did you end up publishing “Womenomics”?

In the 1990s, while I was working at Goldman Sachs Securities, the Japanese stock market was struggling. I was in charge of  advising domestic and international institutional investors on whether they should invest in Japanese stocks. This made me deeply contemplate Japan’s future.

Around the same time, I experienced pregnancy and childbirth, prompting me to rethink my approach to work. Although I took a four-month maternity leave and returned to work, I noticed that some of my fellow mothers had chosen to quit their jobs entirely to become full-time homemakers, while others were unable to return to work due to various reasons. Observing this, I felt that it was a big loss not to fully utilize the female workforce in Japanese society.

Therefore, I began writing about Womenomics, believing that if we could better utilize existing talented female professionals, the Japanese economy could thrive even more, fostering growth.

Q3. Did marriage and childbirth change your approach to your career?

When my children were young, I had a “guilty-mom-feeling” for not being able to fully participate in school events like other mothers who were involved in PTA or volunteering. As a working mother, it was challenging for me to attend all these events. I remember my daughter would sometimes express disappointment, saying, “Mom didn’t come again.” During those times, I questioned whether my lifestyle choices were right.

However, at that moment, my mother-in-law told me, “If you’re not happy, your children will feel it. So, the most important thing is for you to stay happy.” Since I loved my work, I realized that if I had chosen to be a full-time homemaker, I might not have been as fulfilled. Her words made me realize the importance of being true to myself, and I felt relieved.

Q4. Those are wonderful words! Did you implement any strategies to balance work and family life?

As a dual-income couple, cooperation with my partner was key. Initially, I struggled because I was a perfectionist. For example, I used to get upset over small things like unwashed dishes or mixing laundry colors, which sometimes led to tense moments despite him helping. Realizing this, I started expressing gratitude for what he did. By doing so, we were able to enjoy each other’s company more comfortably. I learned so much in a marriage!

Q5. Expressing gratitude is crucial! How does the female workforce contribute to economic growth?

From a macroeconomic perspective, growth is driven by three factors: “talent, capital, and productivity.” However, capital is limited, and unless there is a productivity revolution, we can only promote growth from a talent perspective. Women’s workforce falls under the category of “talent” in this context.

As Japan’s population peaks and declines each year, and with limitations on utilizing the labor force of the elderly and challenges in changing immigration policies immediately, I focused on the labor force participation of women, which was around 56.7% in the 1990s.

Japanese women, who have received a high level of education globally, can contribute to economic growth by earning income, spending it, and driving consumption. This, in turn, increases corporate profits and wages, leading to a positive cycle.

Q6. How did Womenomics affect awareness towards women’s participation?

Back then, the term “diversity” was not common, known only to those interested in human rights and equality. In 2013, ex-Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stated, “The most underutilized resource in Japan is women,” and announced his intention to promote Womenomics as part of his “Abenomics” economic policy. It was the first time that diversity was articulated within an economic rationale, which influenced even those who were not interested in human rights or equality.

As a result, the employment rate of women in Japan, which was low among advanced countries, increased from around 50% in the 1990s to 72% in 2020. However, the majority of these women are in part-time employment, and there is still room for improvement in the proportion of women in leadership and management positions.

Q7. The increase in women’s employment rate by over 20% in 30 years is remarkable! What challenges exist in improving the proportion of women in leadership positions?

We outlined the reasons in a report published in 2019, including infrastructural aspects such as support for childcare and nursing care, policy issues such as spousal deduction systems, unconscious biases from employers that make it difficult for women to be given opportunities due to assumptions about marriage and childbirth, as well as the cultural background of Japan’s post-war family model and women’s own intentions. 

There is no single cause, and I believe there are various reasons. In the future, we need to collectively search for solutions to adapt to societal changes, both in companies and within ourselves.

Q8. What can we do as individuals for specific solutions?

As part of talent development, I believe leadership training to identify and nurture talented individuals who have gained some experience is one approach. Talented individuals may be poached by other companies if their potential is not recognized. By offering challenging growth opportunities, promotion opportunities, and mobility opportunities, akin to a loyalty program, we can encourage talent growth and pool talented individuals.

Additionally, introducing mentorship and sponsorship programs is recommended. By having mentors who provide coaching and advice on career development and sponsors who directly support promotions, women can more easily map out their career paths and take concrete actions towards goals such as promotions. I also recommend training to address unconscious biases.

Q9. Those are all valuable insights! Have you ever felt that you had unconscious biases yourself?

Absolutely. Looking back, even when choosing souvenirs for my son and daughter during business trips, I noticed that I would buy a science kit for my son while opting for pink, girly toys for my daughter. Of course, she also liked pink, but looking back now, I realize that I had unconscious biases too.

Q10. Why did you set up MPower Partners?

My father developed dementia, and I had decided to retire from Goldman Sachs to spend time with him. However, my father passed away before I retired, leaving me to ponder my next steps. It was at this time that my longtime friends Yumiko Murakami and Mika Seki approached me to start MPower Partners.

Having grappled with issues related to diversity and corporate governance, including Womenomics, in my previous job, I faced the challenge of changing the mindset of major corporations. I believed that startups offered more scalability and growth potential, so we started investing in startups as Japan’s first ESG-focused fund.

The name “MPower” originates from the fact that all three of us have surnames starting with “M.” It also signifies “empowering” entrepreneurs and incorporates the belief in the power of “connections” and “circles.”

Q11. What’s your goals?

Every day is a new challenge for me now. Running a small to mid-sized enterprise exposes me to various problems and challenges daily. It feels like exercising different muscles than before! I’m excited every day, taking care of my own “babies” and seeing them grow.

WITJ hopes that this role model story will inspire and encourage you to shine and find your dream job or industry.

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