URASOE, OKINAWA, Japan – Lt.Col. Kelly Frushour, director of Communication Strategy and Operations for III Marine Expeditionary Force, shared her experiences of being a female Marine officer and a leader at a Woman of Okinawa Power Alliance Network, or WOPAN, panel discussion March 16 at Urasoe City, Okinawa. WOPAN started in 2014 as an intergenerational and cross-cultural support network to promote women’s empowerment and workforce diversity. This program is sponsored by the U.S. Consulate General Naha.
The two other panelists were Kanako Tomihara, the CEO of Ryuseki Shoji Co., Ltd, and Izumi Hamada, the vice president of Janssen Pharmaceutical K.K. All three panelists shared their thoughts and experiences about what it means to be a female leader.
The members of the panel described what their thoughts on good leadership were. Summary points from the panel discussion included: addressing the purpose behind every task, having dialogues with employees, making healthy work environments, thinking how to contribute to the organization, having a good sense of teamwork, taking initiative, and being transparent, receptive, and humble.
“As a leader, my ultimate responsibility is to those who have been entrusted into my care, to make them the best they can be, to ensure they know how they fit in to the bigger picture and that their contributions are important and valued, and to create an environment where they can make mistakes and learn from them,” said Frushour. “It’s only a failure if you fail to learn.”
Around 50 members participated in the discussion with most of the audience members being women, with several men also in attendance. Participants interacted with the panelists through asking questions moderated by Irene Cooper, a professionalism coach.
Leaders exchanged their opinions on how females can advance in both Japanese and U.S. working societies. Making gradual headways is the key to naturally shifting the societies to acknowledge women’s effort, according to Tomihara.
“I want our working environment to know that women are also capable of doing the same task as men,” said Tomihara. “We, women, will have to gradually accumulate those experiences that will eventually become our armor of knowledge.”
Hamada encouraged the audience to be confident in taking on challenges even when they think are not ready.
“Opportunity is lying around,” said Hamada. “You may feel that you’re not ready for it, but I believe it’s important to take initiative and take on the challenges. It may be difficult, but go at it, and don’t be afraid to make mistakes.”
Having faith in your ability is a first step toward being successful, according to Frushour.
“I always like this quote from Henry Ford – ‘whether you believe you can do a thing or not, you are right,’” said Frushour. “You have to believe in yourself and your capability to learn and grow. There are enough barriers to female leaders succeeding. We should not add to them by being a barrier to ourselves. Regardless of gender or nationality, people who want to improve their leadership have many of the same challenges and questions.”