Women in sales seeking out role models

Women in sales seeking out role models
Maiko Asahi of Coca-Cola East Japan Co. stands near the company’s products in Koto Ward, Tokyo. “Besides work that needs heavy lifting, I haven’t felt there is much gender difference as a professional sales worker,” she said.

Marketing personnel are an inevitable part of any business - but the profession is said to be lagging behind in allowing women to make important contributions. Observers pin much of the problem on the challenges of juggling family life and work.

Many women working in marketing are unsure if they can keep their jobs after getting married and having children, so some of them are seeking out role models to learn best how to balance work and family.

Anxiety about future

A female employee in her early 30s has been working in sales at an agricultural material maker since day one. Working out of an office in Niigata Prefecture, she often visits her customers' farms and ensures good sales by quickly responding to orders whether on holiday or early in the morning. She not only enjoys her job, but also takes great pride in trailblazing a career path at the company as a woman in sales.

But here's her dilemma: One day, she hopes to get married and have children. "When that happens, what happens to my job? I can't even think about it right now," she said. Her woes stem from having no role model in the company to look up to when it comes to a working life after marriage and kids.

Another woman working in sales at a pharmaceutical company echoes similar anxieties about the future. "All the senior female workers still in sales after having children look like they're in a rush all the time, struggling to finish up by the time they have to pick up their kids from day care," the worker said. "I might not be able to handle that."

Working in sales usually means long work hours because customers come first. Women and men are on equal footing in the profession where stamina plays a big part, but performance gaps start to show when children and marriage come into the picture.

"Given recent trends where the needs of customers are diversifying, companies have started assigning women to sales in recent years," said Ayako Ota, head of a network named Eigyobu Joshika or "women's sales division," comprising 2,400 female sales workers from around the nation. "Many of these companies lack women in management positions in their sales divisions."

The Yomiuri Shimbun Young female sales workers hold a seminar at Shinsedai Eijo college in November where they came up with strategies to balance family and work for long-term careers in Chuo Ward. But momentum is slowly starting to build toward a solution. Female sales workers in their 20s to 30s across various industries met last year to discuss long-term careers as part of a project called Shinsedai (new generation) Eijo college. Eijo is an abbreviation of eigyo joshi, meaning female sales worker.

Hosted by Recruit Holdings Co. and Suntory Holdings Ltd., five companies - Kirin Co., IBM Japan, Ltd., KDDI Corp., Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corp. and Nissan Motor Co. - participated in the event.

During their discussions, participants suggested setting up an evaluation system focusing on efficiency, rewarding faster completion of tasks instead of total hours worked.

Shorter hours accepted

Many female sales workers unable to work long hours still contribute in a big way.

Minako Nemoto, 29, continues to work in sales at a Johnson & Johnson group's pharmaceutical firm while raising her 2-year-old child. She works until 4 p.m. using a short-hour working system called jitan. Three workers including Nemoto are in charge of the same area, with her team members covering for her when she cannot work. "Everyone has naturally accepted this jitan work style," said Nemoto.

Maiko Asahi, a Coca-Cola East Japan Co. worker with a 3-year-old child, also uses jitan. The 36-year-old mother can only work until 4:30 p.m. so her working style is efficient. She uses the company's system that allows workers to visit their clients' offices and then go straight home, while doing paperwork whenever she has time. Asahi was the only female worker who continued working in sales when she returned from maternity leave three years ago. Another young female worker in the same situation is now working for the company. She is also starting to see female counterparts when she visits clients.

"Companies are changing along with society. There should be bigger changes if we keep working," said Asahi.

For female workers at a crossroads between family and career, Ota of Eigyobu Joshika suggests they "work hard and gain experience making achievements." Building up such successes as signing on new clients can surely give female staff the confidence to carry on with their careers.

To those frustrated by a lack of role models in their everyday life, Ota suggests they "choose the best parts of anyone, female or male, and regardless of industry, and learn from them.

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