Apr 18, 2023
Corporate News / Feature Story
Female Leaders at Panasonic on the Role Models That Inspire Them
Despite global recognition that the inclusion of women in leadership roles is good for business, we and many other organizations, still have some way to go to achieve our aspiration of gender equality. In response to this, colleagues within Panasonic launched two major programs to tackle these challenges in Europe—the Women in Leadership programme and the Women Connect Network—both aimed at improving gender diversity and promoting female talent across the region.
Building on these initiatives, Panasonic Europe recently organized a global event for regional employees headlined “The Superpower of Female Role Models,” during which some of the company’s female senior leaders came together to provide practical insights and advice to their colleagues. Here are some of their messages.
Panasonic Japan’s first female board member on why one size doesn’t fit all
Ayako Shotoku is Panasonic Holdings Group General Counsel in Japan. The fact that she is the first ever female board member of the overall Group says something about Panasonic’s own challenges in the diversity stakes.
Ayako joined Panasonic straight from university in 1991, and, she explained frankly, neither expected to be working until this stage of her life nor did she ever imagine she would become a board member. “So there was absolutely no vision, and my position today is simply a consequence of me building my career step by step.”
Ayako attributes a large part of her success to the many mentors and role models she was careful to network with from an early stage. “I cultivated a succession of mentors as my career evolved,” she explained. “And they were not always female.”
As a message to other female professionals at Panasonic, Ayako says, “One role model does not fit all—it’s better to pick the positive attributes of a variety of people, piece by piece. And try to enjoy your work—enjoy the challenge and stretch yourselves!”
Female Panasonic executives from Europe share their key messages
A panel of senior Panasonic Europe female executives articulated the challenges faced by aspiring young female managers and provided tips to address and overcome these. They were Tina Braden, Sales Manager, Panasonic Industry Europe; Victoria Crespo, Supply Chain Manager, Panasonic Consumer Europe; and Sylwia Miedza, Senior Manager, Panasonic Information Systems Company Europe.
One of their key messages was that female managers need to develop their own leadership style. Victoria revealed that she had initially tried to adapt her own style to those of her previous bosses, all of whom were male, but found that these didn’t suit her. Her own style—what she calls “collaborative leadership”—has evolved, she said, over time and through trial and error, and is based on respect among team members for each other.
Sylwia asserted that women’s perceived vulnerability and compassion can actually be a strength when it comes to leadership. “I think that is appreciated by employees; it makes them feel safe, that each of them can bring their different personalities to work. This is perhaps the leadership style that will be expected by future generations.”
The panel discussed some of the challenges faced by female leaders and ways of overcoming these. A key issue was balancing the demands of work and childcare. Sylwia thought that having female managers work part-time—perhaps in a form of job-sharing—might be an interesting solution. She highlighted the fact that while many teams consist largely of women, they are often managed by men. “We need more women in leadership positions as role models so that they are seen not only as key contributors but as leaders too.”
And their advice for young women taking their first steps in the corporate world?
Sylwia emphasized how important it is to establish a good relationship with your manager. “Communicate with them what your interests are, what you’re aiming for, and discuss with them how to make that possible.” Companies like Panasonic are huge, she added, and opportunities take time to be found. “Your manager can help you find them.”
Tina’s advice was not to try to network across the whole organization at once. “Build your network person-by-person—get to know people gradually across all of the organizations in the different geographies that companies like Panasonic cover.”
Women at Panasonic—an under-utilized talent pool
Sylwia explained how the company is facing a shortage of skilled workers in many areas, and that women “constitute a huge talent pool that can help address this. They shouldn’t be overlooked anymore!” She added that technology now gives us all the flexibility to basically work anytime, anywhere. “This can allow both parents and caretakers to take care of families, and work in a very attractive way. So I think it’s a good opportunity.”
Victoria sees the recruiting process is becoming more two-way; rather than companies just assessing potential candidates, the candidates themselves are increasingly assessing the company. “They’re asking questions such as, what is your policy on diversity and inclusion? How do you ensure work-life balance among your staff? Panasonic needs to highlight these areas more in order to recruit new talent.”
Getting the job done—in a war zone
Ms. Olga Yatkevych, Accounting & Admin General Manager for Panasonic Ukraine, joined Panasonic in 2006 and has recently had to step up following the outbreak of war to provide comfort, direction and focus for her team and other colleagues.
Olga explained to delegates that she was on maternity leave and had been turned down by a succession of other international companies when she was first interviewed by Panasonic, who offered her the position. “So my first experience was that Panasonic is a company that does provide opportunities for young women.” And, she adds, two of her most supportive managers were Japanese men who supported, guided and inspired her all the way.
Olga recalls the time the company had to create a logistic department in Ukraine from scratch. Most of the people involved in the recruitment process were men, she says, and some of them said the company should only employ men because logistics is hard work and maybe too stressful for women. “At the end of the day, all the best candidates were women, so we employed them and have never regretted it,” says Olga. “They’re doing an incredible job in the most stressful conditions you can imagine.”
Olga has her own role model—the head of Ukraine’s logistics department who also joined Panasonic while young and now has five children. “She’s worked during two consecutive maternity leaves without stopping and has managed to arrange logistics even during wartime.”
Panasonic Holdings President & CEO Yuki Kusumi summarizes the company’s approach to DEI. “We believe our commitment to diversity will give us a competitive edge and enable us to better serve society.”
Under its DEI Vision of “Creating a workplace where diverse talents can work at their best,” Panasonic is continuing on its journey to achieve greater diversity, equity and inclusion across its workforce, and ultimately across society as a whole.
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