In Japan, “women need to change their awareness as well”

Interview with Satoko Ohtsuki/  Satoko Ohtsuki is the CEO of Phybbit Ltd, a tech start-up which fights digital ad fraud. She founded it, in Tokyo, eight years ago. Before that, she studied atomic physics as a master student at Tokyo Metropolitan University. She kindly agreed to talk to us, about her life as a CEO and as a mother of two in Japan.


In your opinion, why do you think it’s so complicated to achieve a work-life balance in Japan?

It  is really difficult to say the exact reason, but I think Japanese peer-pressure, life-time employment, and the seniority system is making our situation complicated. Due to the life-time employment system, Japanese companies cannot fire employees easily, and need to keep a seniority system for their salary system. As you may know, such systems have positive sides like making Japan a safer country because people will not worry about their future once they get a job. The negative side is that employees will lose their motivation to work efficiently, and working longer hours because overtime payment is the only way to raise their monthly salary.


What should be done in Japan to empower women? 

I think we should change the Japanese environment, and also women need to change their awareness as well. For the business environment most of the management, or C-level personnel are male, and only males can make a speech in most business conferences as an example. For the education environment the female ratio in top Universities is 30%, or can be less than that. (In Physics it was less than 5%.)

These environments are definitely a factor in lessening chances for women. Meanwhile I feel women need to be conscious, in regards to that if they don’t change then these things will not change.


I grew up in the same environment and my family didn’t want me to go into Physics, and wanted me to be hired in a large corporation and get married, but I did what I want and I don’t want my husband to pay for everything.  Also many men are still thinking that just bringing his kids to park once per week is enough for “raising kids”, and somehow many women will give up their job because they will be convinced that her husband is getting a higher salary than her.  I really don’t like this ideology, because he would not get such a salary if she didn’t take care of the kids the entire day.

You are a successful CEO and a mother of two : what would you say is the most challenging for you?

Thank you so much, I am still not successful in my opinion however. If you asked me this question two months ago, I probably might have another answer, however, the most challenging is surviving in the coronavirus shock and being the number 1company in the global market.

Already many companies went bankrupt in Japan, China, and soon this may happen globally. In the last financial crisis I was just a student, so this is the first time for me to face such a crisis in business. Since many co-workers and I have kids, we must not only survive this crisis but also find a way toward growth. As you know, adversity will bring opportunities so we need to work harder (doesn’t mean working until late) and make our service stronger for the market.


It’s said that Japanese women lack female role models in order to get inspired in today’s society: do you agree?

I’m not sure about such a saying, in my case inspiration and motivation comes naturally. But if we take for example the movie/animation industry, there has been a shift toward female heroines, like for example Disney’s Frozen or the new Star Wars trilogy,  and this will hopefully contribute toward more women feeling like they too can achieve formidable things.

There was a recent case of discrimination at the entrance of Japanese medical schools regarding gender, what’s your opinion about this? Do you think your gender has ever affected your studies or career?

I really feel shame for such discrimination as a Japanese National, and I am wondering possibly if it will happen to me as well? I’ve been subject to some level of discrimination in business negotiations, simply due to the fact that I am a female. In my case, I didn’t take it personally and just move on to find partners that were like-minded. In general, I would say that discrimination is an unfortunate reality, and it goes far beyond the problem of sexes. It is a problem that impacts many minorities across all types of cultures. We need to continue raising awareness for such issues while at the same time pushing against the status quo to get what we want and deserve, even if that means having to work much harder than everyone else.

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