I want to live a strong life, always looking ahead and never forgetting my aspirations.
JVCKENWOOD Group’s Shanghai Kenwood Electronics Co. Ltd. (SKE), a manufacturing company in Shanghai, has around 1,000 employees.
Since it was first established, it has gradually expanded in size.
For this edition’s “Diverse People” we interviewed four female managers working at SKE.
We asked them about their attitudes toward career advancement, their consciousness as managers, and how they feel about children and family.
Joined SKE in 2006. General Manager, Quality Assurance Department.
Majored in Japanese language at university and worked for a Japanese company before joining SKE. Moved to the Quality Assurance Department after about four years in the General Affairs and Human Resources Section of the General Administration Department.
Huan Ji Min
Joined SKE in 2004. General Manager, General Administration Department.
Took advantage of her Japanese language skills to join SKE’s Purchasing Department as a mid-career hire. In the General Administration Department, she has worked in a wide range of management areas, including general affairs, human resources, corporate management, IT, and services.
Zhang Wei Juan
Joined SKE in 2009. Deputy General Manager, Finance Department.
Gained experience working as an interpreter in the General Administration Department, before moving to the Finance Department. In addition to her duties in monthly account settlement, her main work is in financial management, including tax administration and dealing with the banks.
Joined SKE in 1997. Manager, Technical Assistance Section, Production Engineering Department.
After joining SKE, she spent some time in the Manufacturing Department before being assigned to the Production Engineering Department. As well as preparing various documents and making improvements to the factory lines, she performs administrative duties so that everyone in the team can work in a pleasant environment. She has an 18 year old son.
As a Working Woman
Tell us about women’s advancement in the workplace in China.
With social progress in China, the concepts of gender equality, educational equality, and women advancing in the workplace under their own steam, creating value in their lives, have spread, and it is now quite natural for women to be active in the workplace in the same way as men. It is normal for women to go to work after graduating from school, and the sight of women flourishing in a range of industries is being presented in the media as “women trying out what they want to do and enriching their own lives.”
It is the same here at SKE, where many women are actively participating in the workplace. One reason may be that the manufacture of electronic products requires delicate work, but I think it also has to do with the pleasant work environment that is unique to Japanese companies. It is easy to maintain a good work-life balance here, so we may have a better environment compared to Western companies, which allows us to keep working.
In China, gender equality started to be advocated in the 1950s, and by the 1960s, many women were succeeding in management positions in a variety of companies. Perhaps because of this background, when I grew up, both of my parents worked. I saw at close hand women with splendid careers, so I never considered it at all strange that women and men should go out into the workforce in the same way.
In this country, it has long been the norm for both husband and wife to work, but with the introduction of the one-child policy, parents’ enthusiasm for education became excessive as they strived to ensure that their children, whether boy or girl, would become independent adults. Of course, I was no exception and I was also educated in the same way by my mother.
I was the same. Ever since I was a child, I have watched my strong, brave, and independent mother from up close. My mother grew up in Shanghai, which has a reputation in China for having the strongest women.
Conversely, in Shanghai, the men are actually very gentle. They are proud of the fact that their wives are out in society, shining brightly.
Have you been able to balance your work and home lives?
To be honest, balancing work and home has not been easy. In China, maternity leave and parenting leave is only for two weeks before the birth and about four months after. My baby was too small to put into childcare, but even so, I could not quit my job and I really wanted to keep working. After talking it over many times with my husband before I returned to work, we eventually decided to hire a housekeeper.
In China, it is quite common to employ a housekeeper. In my house, we asked our housekeeper to live in for 24 hours a day. While my husband and I are at work, she looks after the children, and she does the housework at night. This has given me the time to look after the children when I get home from work.
In China, it is common for children to start kindergarten at the age of three, but in my case, I got the job at SKE when my daughter was two, so we put her into childcare early. We hired a housekeeper and asked her to pick our daughter up from childcare, so when I think about it now, my heart aches that I probably made my daughter feel lonely.
In my case, my parents lived nearby, so they helped me look after my child. In China, it is not uncommon for the grandparents to provide support with raising children. In particular, around the time my child was born, my husband was away on business a great deal, so my parents helped me out a lot.
In our family as well, both sets of grandparents were very understanding, so they alternated looking after our child. We also employed a housekeeper to lessen the housework burden. Fortunately, my husband had more days off than me, so he was able to make time to look after our child and with things like schooling. I have nothing but gratitude for everyone in my family. Talking of support from one’s husband, Zhou-san’s husband is amazing!
He does everything—cooking, laundry, cleaning. We have never particularly decided on how to divide up the household tasks, and we both just do what we notice needs to be done. On days that I come home from work exhausted, he does everything.
In my case, things were a bit different, and I rarely saw my father doing any housework. Perhaps because that was the environment I grew up in, I feel guilty about getting my husband to help with housework and looking after our child, so I only ask for his help when I am particularly busy or things are really crazy. If I ask properly, he cheerfully helps out, so I don’t feel as though I am doing everything myself and we don’t end up quarreling.
As women, for us to balance our home and work properly, we need mutual understanding. To achieve that, I think it is important that we speak up and tell others what we want to do, when we need help, and that we want to succeed at work.
How do you want to grow as working women and mothers in the future?
At work, I want to learn many more new things so I can upgrade my skills. In particular, I think I need to study more about finance. At home, I always want to treasure our family time, so at least twice a year, I want to plan a family vacation and take trips to different places.
I have been in the General Administration Department for three years, but I think I have a long way to go in terms of experience in a position of managing people. There are so many issues that I have to solve, such as how to create a pleasant environment for everyone to work in, how to ensure that the work is done well, and how to elevate everyone’s individual skills. I want to increase opportunities to learn specialist skills externally, not just in the course of daily work.
And as a mother, I want to raise my 11-year-old and 6-year-old daughters to be people who can contribute to society. My husband and I sometimes talk about our children’s education, and often, we cannot agree and end up fighting (laughter).
I want to tell my child to live a life of hard work and no regrets. That all of us, whether man or woman, should try hard and improve our skills while balancing our work with our home life and hobbies. So, first, I have to model that kind of life myself. That’s what I am thinking at the moment, but when my child was about one year old, I was really worried about my child’s future education...that motivated me to study child psychology and I obtained qualifications as a psychological counselor. I am always reading books about how people think, so I want to put that knowledge to use not just in my child’s education but also at the company.
I also want to do more study and upgrade my skills in quality assurance, and grow as a working woman.
In terms of what I can do as a parent, I believe that children grow up watching their parents, so I need to be more conscious of my own actions so that they connect to my child’s education. In particular, I want my child to grow into someone who can contribute to society and an organization in the future, so as I deepen my own knowledge about tax affairs and banking, I want to keep my antenna up at all times and make a contribution to the company.
Working for a Japanese company
What do you think about the environment at SKE and how easy it is to work here?
I have four impressions of Japanese companies – that there is a strong awareness of being punctual and keeping promises, that the atmosphere in the company is good and they value communication between departments, that they comply strictly with social rules and their employees have faith in them, and that if you can speak Japanese and are motivated, you will be able to grow in the company. Above all that, in particular, I think that SKE is a company that truly responds to the “motivation” of each and every one of its employees. If there are people who want to learn Japanese, the company will provide an environment for them to learn, and they also bring in instructors from outside to hold management training for people in management positions. Of course, there are also training courses that all employees can participate in. I think that SKE is a company that offers plenty of opportunities as long as you are motivated.
Here, we often share knowledge that we have obtained with each other, so when I see people around me working hard, it makes me feel that I need to work hard too. When I first started working here, I couldn’t speak a word of Japanese, but I wanted to grow more and to be able to take on more challenges, so I studied Japanese, and, after that, while still working, I studied for three years and obtained a qualification as a Commerce and Industry Administrator so I could cultivate my skills in company administration and departmental administration. SKE gives due acknowledgement to each individual’s skills, so I want to take on a variety of challenges in the future.
There is not much overtime and I am happy to be able to leave work at the regular time. The company respects our private time, so even if we do have to work overtime, we can control it ourselves. The official knock-off time here is 16:50, and at that time, there is a rush to get out the door (laughter). I think the switch between “on” and “off” mode is probably more clear-cut here than in Japan.
When I think about it, SKE’s consideration of its employees is amazing compared to other neighboring countries and to Chinese privatized companies. We have a staff trip once a year, which we can join together with our families. Often, we can be working in the same space but not know very much about each other’s families, wouldn’t you agree? So the staff trip is a good way to get to know each other’s families. I have some pleasant memories of those trips.
The company is also very understanding about maternity leave and parenting leave. I took leave when I had my child, and when I returned to work, everyone greeted me in the same way, as if I had never been away.
What kind of things are you aware of as managers?
When I first became a manager, I thought I needed to have expert knowledge and the drive to move forward. However, as the number of people has increased, I have gained a renewed awareness of the word “teamwork.” In the case of financial affairs, our main job is to quietly journalize and fill in vouchers, so there are no opportunities to talk to each other. But that has been the cause of problems occurring in the accounts, so it made me aware of the importance of communication. Recently, I have been holding debriefing sessions and deliberation meetings after the account closing, so we can all share information with each other. In this way, my challenge at the moment is to create an environment in which individual members can enjoy their work, while deepening the connections in the team.
I am keenly aware of the need for expert knowledge. That was one reason why I obtained my qualification. Being in a position with people working under me, I need to have the knowledge so I can educate them properly. As well as technical knowledge, there are many other things that I need to learn, such as finance and logistics matters.
An overarching perspective and a sense of responsibility. Overarching perspective means balancing the company and the department overall. Instead of only thinking about what is right in front of me, I need to have a broader perspective and to always be thinking about what I can do to perform my work more efficiently. Also, I believe that the essence of administration is management of staff. It is the same as diversity, in that there are many people with different personalities and individuality in the company, and everyone has their own likes and dislikes. All of these different people coming together in one place and working together with a sense of reward in what they are doing is the interesting part of working for a company. I feel that, as a manager, I need to manage in a way that will help everyone to feel the essence of that.
Nurturing of our young people. Because SKE is a pleasant environment to work in, it has a high staff retention rate, which is one of its appeals. However, it is also true that it does not have very many young people. For the company to expand going forward, nurturing employees of the next generation and ensuring there is no shortage of managers in the future will be a priority. SKE was the first Japanese company to move into the Songjiang District and it has been here for 20 years now. It is a stable company with a promising future. I would like to go out and promote SKE more to young talent.
What do you place most value in your work?
My motto is to do as little overtime as I can. We do have overtime, even in China, but because the Finance Department has a particularly high number of women, overtime is not a good thing for family life. To raise people’s motivation, I want to manage not only my own work style, but that of the people around me as well.
One other thing is to work with a style that people will think is wonderful. The working women I met when I was studying in Japan were all really well put together and I thought they looked wonderful, so I want to be like that too.
The first thing is clear communication of my intentions. I try to say what is on my mind and tell people clearly what I like and don’t like, and to convey my feelings frankly without trying to hide them. The second thing is having an interest in the world. I want to know more about not just what is happening in China, but about the rest of the world and to expand my own thinking. The third thing is to be a dutiful daughter to my parents. When my child was born, my parents helped me out a great deal. So now, when the need inevitably comes, I want to devote all my efforts to caring for my aging parents. At the moment, we live in different houses, but I want to be a model for my child and pass on the love while supporting my parents.
There are four things that I most value. “Respect each other’s different customs,” “be sincere and have an honest heart,” “be grateful to those people who point out things you are doing wrong in your work and respect those people,” and “no matter what the task, respect those people who perform those tasks seriously.” China has 56 ethnic groups, all of which have their own different cultures and customs. I want to acknowledge and respect the individuality and values of each and every person and to make it possible for them all to work together pleasantly.
“Walking among three people, I find my teacher among them. I choose that which is good in them and follow it, and that which is bad and change it.” This is my favorite quote from Confucius. It means that, if you do things in a group of three people, one of those other people is bound to become a model for your behavior. You should learn from the good things, and, if you see bad things in them and recognize the same things in yourself, you should change those things. In other words, no matter who you meet, if they have a wonderful skill, you should learn from them. I think that is a very important thing to do when working in society, so I hope others will engrave it in their hearts.
* Job titles and affiliations are as of publication time.
Shanghai Kenwood Electronics Co. Ltd.
Major product categoriescar electronics, communication devices
Established in 1994. One of the Automotive Sector’s manufacturing companies.
With a vision of “contributing to society with the aim of being a company that is trusted by its customers,” the entire workforce is thoroughly engaged in elevating the quality they deliver and raising the standard of the production plant overall, and in moral education of the staff. Currently, almost half of SKE’s managers are women, and many women are participating actively in the company.
Scenes from SKE
- Editor’s Note (From the Diversity Promotion Office) -
In this third installment of our “Diverse People” Roundtable Discussion Series, we put the spotlight on women who are flourishing at one of our overseas bases. On this particular occasion, we interviewed four departmental managers, but SKE also has many women who are doing very well at other levels of leadership (section manager/team leader level). This gives us a sense of the deep well of talent to be found in the company.
Through these interviews, we learned many things about the current situation in China that we had never known before, including about its historical background and customs. One thing that particularly stood out was the way these four women are living their lives gracefully, resolutely, and enjoyably. Despite a tendency to become completely pre-occupied with balancing work, housework, and parenting, with the understanding and support of their families, these women are studying languages and specialist subjects, attending schools to obtain qualifications, and always trying to learn, never forgetting their aspirations. I found that particularly inspiring. They also have a very strong global sensibility and I would like to emulate the way in which they are exploring their field of action not just domestically but also overseas as well.
There are many different aspects to diversity, such as gender, nationality, ethnicity, presence of a disability, and sexual orientation, but even looking just at the area of “women’s active participation in the workforce,” I have realized anew that Japan and China have very different histories and cultures, and that their current circumstances are also completely different. This experience has given me the very strong desire to delve even deeper into the “diversity” of each country, by reporting on the situation in the various countries and regions.
Mihoko Hasegawa, Diversity Promotion Office