Judit Kawaguchi

Words to Live by: Bestselling Author Mariko Bando

Interview by Judit Kawaguchi

Mariko Bando is the president of Showa Women’s University in Tokyo. She is a bestselling author with more than thirty books, including The Dignity of a Woman, which sold over 3 million copies. An advocate for women’s rights, Bando is Director of UNIFEM (United Nations Development Fund for Women) Japan Domestic Committee. Her distinguished career has had many highlights: She was the first woman to join the Prime Minister’s office as a career bureaucrat in 1969 where she served the government for 34 years. In 1995, she became Vice Governor of Saitama prefecture and in 1998 she was appointed Consul General to Brisbane, Australia, the only woman ever to hold such a post. From 2001 until 2003 she was Director General of the Bureau for Gender Equality in then-prime minister Junichiro Koizumi’s cabinet. Bando is equally successful in her private life: she’s happily married with two children, and is famous for her mentoring skills which earned her the respect and love of many generations.
Mariko Bando

Dignity means that when you’re breaking the glass ceiling, you’re doing it very carefully to make sure that the shards don’t hurt anyone. And of course, afterwards, you pick up the pieces.In Japan, we have bamboo barriers that keep women out of the circle of power. Luckily, bamboo is flexible so as long as you are, too, just like a little snake or lizard, you can squeeze your way into the center.

I never felt inferior to men. At school I knew the answers as well as any boy so I grew up thinking that women and men had the same potential. The challenge is to know oneself. I quickly realized that I’d do better at work than in the kitchen.

Subordinates, especially women, must raise their bosses. The reality is that company rules and modes of behavior were set by men for men so even today, few bosses know how to handle women workers. Men have their own unspoken understanding of the way a company system operates but women usually need more verbal communication. The trouble is that since most supervisors are men, they are worried about giving feedback to women, as they are scared of being called too tough or even accused of sexual harassment. Yet if a woman wants to grow, she must teach her bosses how to talk in a way that that she understands. One should never assume that the others know what one means.

Adults get jobs but it’s the work that matures the person. I grew into an adult thanks to my job and my colleagues. Nobody remembers your failures as well as you do. I couldn’t forgive myself when I didn’t do a job well. I was a very good student so I assumed that I’d do well at work but for the first decade I made a lot of mistakes. Now I know that I was too tough on myself. You don’t have to be!

No matter what happens, how nice your husband may be, keep your job! In the 20th century, most Japanese women unfortunately quit their jobs after they got married or had a child. So much talent and possibility was lost. I hope that the 21st century lifestyle is about women working and also having a family. It can be done and it’s worth it!

Don’t make excuses for yourself. Most people find alibis why things don’t go well for them. Don’t be such a person. Keep a polite distance from yourself so you can see your performance the way it is and improve. Work on yourself before you ask others to do overtime.

When you meet a woman with the Queen Bee Syndrome, you must take the stings with smiles and bring her more nectar than any worker bee, ever. Sadly, women in senior positions often look at younger women as competition and instead of supporting them, they make their lives even tougher. “I suffered a lot to get here, so you should, too! “ is their attitude. These queen bees often assume that a man can do a better job than a woman so they promote men over women. It’s a very sad predicament for everyone and shows that these queens don’t have enough confidence in themselves. They take pleasure in refusing help or even causing harm to other women. Only consistent good performance can convince such bees and if not, don’t worry as their reign always comes to a bitter end. I’m not proposing a sweet revenge but telling you to let nature take its course.

The biggest mistake women make is to quit their jobs when things are tough. This way they never taste the happiness of success and jobs well done that would surely be theirs a few years down the line. I never thought about quitting and somehow the struggling turned into greater challenges that I could have ever dreamed about. Hang in there for dear life and life will reward you!

Small, boring, seemingly unimportant details create a big beautiful picture. It’s not the brilliance of your work performance once in a while that matters the most: it’s your every day behavior that makes people want to work with you. If you’re always on time, if you’re polite, helpful, reliable, and you’re improving, you will be given more and more responsibilities because your colleagues will want you on their team.

Don’t be afraid of getting older! Many people, especially women, worry about aging but if I had a chance to be younger again, I’d say: No, thank you! My 20’s were exciting but they were all about hard work and mistakes. The 30’s were much better, as I understood my job and how to be a better mother and wife. My 40’s were fantastic as I had responsibilities as a team leader and from then on I feel that with every year I contribute more. That’s happiness.

This Quote

The biggest mistake women make is to quit their jobs when things are tough. — Mariko Bando