Women in business: Defying conventional expectations in the U.S. and Japan

As part of his economic revitalization plan, Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been touting “womenomics,” a plan to increase the number of women in the labor force. One way for women to enter the workforce but bypass the conventional corporate structure is through entrepreneurship.

Four questions for three female entrepreneurs

At a recent Center for East Asia Policy Studies event on womenomics and female entrepreneurship in Japan, we brought together three successful female entrepreneurs to discuss their experiences both in the United States and Japan. Prior to their panel discussion, we asked each of the speakers four questions about their careers.

  1. What was the trigger that made you decide to start your own business?
  2. What was the biggest hurdle in starting and/or running your business?
  3. How or when was being a woman an asset to you as an entrepreneur and/or running your business?
  4. How has the climate for female entrepreneurs changed compared to when you started your business?

Despite the differing environments for entrepreneurs and working women in the two countries, the speakers raised many of the same issues and offered similar advice. Access to funding or financing was an issue in both countries, as was the necessity to overcome fears about running a business or being in male-dominated fields. All of the speakers noted the positive changes in the business environment for female entrepreneurs since they had started their own businesses, as well as the impact this has had in creating more opportunities for women.

Donna Fujimoto Cole

Donna Fujimoto Cole is the president and CEO of Cole Chemical and Distributing Inc. in Houston, Texas. She started her company in 1980 at the urging of her clients. Today Cole Chemical is ranked 131 among chemical distributors globally by ICIS (Independent Chemical Information Service) and its customers include Bayer Material Scientific, BP America, Chevron, ExxonMobil, Lockheed Martin, Procter & Gamble, Shell, Spectra Energy, and Toyota. Cole is also an active member of her community and serves on the boards of a variety of national and regional organizations.

Fujiyo Ishiguro

A founding member for the Netyear Group, Fujiyo Ishiguro is now the president and CEO of the Netyear Group Corporation based in Tokyo, Japan. The firm, which was established in 1999, devises comprehensive digital marketing solutions for corporate clients. The Netyear Group was listed on the Mothers section of the Tokyo Stock Exchange in 2008. Recently, Ishiguro has served on a number of Japanese government committees including the Cabinet Office’s “The Future to Choose” Committee and the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry’s “Internet of Things” Committee. 

Sachiko Kuno

Sachiko Kuno is the co-founder, president, and CEO of the S&R Foundation in Washington, D.C., a non-profit organization that supports talented individuals in the fields of science, art, and social entrepreneurship. A biochemist by training, Kuno and her research partner and husband Ryuji Ueno have established a number pharmaceutical companies and philanthropic foundations including R-Tech Ueno in Japan and Sucampo Pharmaceuticals in Bethesda, Maryland. Together, Kuno and Ueno hold over 900 patents. Kuno is active in the greater Washington community and serves on the boards of numerous regional organizations.

Full video of the event featuring these speakers can be found here.