When you are not certain about your career path, try various options

When you are not certain about your career path, try various options

Fusako Kitamura
Technology Div. 3, Sony LSI Design Incorporated

I switched from math to semiconductors to get involved in monozukuri.

When I was a child, I was good at math and loved solving puzzles, so I majored in mathematics at university. Most of my fellow students aspired to become software engineers, but when I was shown various products during a study tour of an electronics manufacturer at my professor's suggestion, I decided that I would like to work at this type of company. I was familiar with Sony because my parents liked its products, and it became my first choice as a place of employment. After doing some research, I discovered that a female student four or five years my senior from the same faculty had joined Sony as an engineer, so I arranged to visit her. I recall that any concerns I may have had disappeared when I asked her about the atmosphere in the company. She told me the workplace was relaxed and enabled men and women work together without any issues.

When I joined Sony, I said I wanted to be involved with as many products as possible. Then I was assigned to the division developing semiconductors (LSIs), which are an essential component of various products. Initially, it was very difficult for me because my major was mathematics and I knew very little about semiconductors, but my colleagues simply treated me as an engineer. At that time, there were more female engineers working in that division than in others, and since they were all active in their own expertise, I determined to do my best to become like them. The semiconductor division focuses on building tools for designing semiconductors, and I gained wide-ranging experience creating tool management systems, and providing design environments that applied commercially-available tools. These tools were used in designing semiconductors for Sony digital cameras, video cameras and portable audio players, and it was tough to respond in a timely manner to the expectations of designers, who were very particular about the performance of the products. Initially, I was put in charge of developing small-scale items, but after I started working on general-purpose systems, I got involved in sorting out various development requirements as a group leader and eventually moved on to large-scale development projects. I believe the extensive knowledge I acquired during my assignment then is proving to be very useful in my current work as a manager.

A semiconductor device designed by Sony LSI Design

Support from my colleagues was very helpful during childcare

In my private life, I got married to a man who also works in Sony, and have two children. I had always been keen to continue working after childbirth, and I was able to take maternity leave comfortably knowing that several senior colleagues in the past had returned to work after their maternity leaves. I realized that I loved work when I took a year off for the first time ever after my first child was born. Since maternity leave proved to be a great opportunity to confirm my own feelings, it helped support me through some very challenging times to juggle both work and child care after I returned to work. I suspect some people ponder whether they should continue working coming to life events like marriage and childbirth. I would suggest that they start by trying to ease themselves back into their jobs by working shorter hours, for example. It is not too late to take some time to reconfirm your intentions before making a decision.

When I returned to full-time work the flex-time system proved to be very helpful. If the children fell ill, for example, I would work at the company in the morning, return home to take my husband's place and let him go to work, then switch with him again in the evening. In this way, we made full use of the flex-time system as a married couple. My colleagues were also extremely helpful in providing full support. I believe the fact that everybody rallied round willingly when I suddenly had to take time off was due to a work environment where it was considered normal to help people who were raising children, while my superiors supported people like me to adapt and manage the way we work to personal circumstances. Since everyone at my workplace considered balancing home life and work as normal and did not see childrearing as something particularly special, I somehow managed to handle everything even during the most challenging times when the children were small.

Look how big my children have grown while I balanced my home life and work!
The Sony Atsugi Technology Center No. 2 where my workplace is located

People who recommend promotion also provide support

As a manager of the semiconductor development division, I draw on group members' opinions when confirming the course of action for future operations, and determining priorities when development project schedule needs some coordinations. The opportunity to get involved in management came several years after I gave birth to my second child, and had completed maternity leave. My General Manager told me he thought I was suited to becoming a section manager and recommended that I give it a try. Since I had worked together with him for a long time, I could openly discuss anything with him with trust. Initially I wondered whether the position would be too much for me, and asked him if he would support me when things got tough. He replied, 'Of course I will. After all, I'm endorsing you.' Confident that someone was ready to help me if necessary, I decided to take up the challenge. If your boss recommends career enhancement, I think it is a great idea to give it a try and not turn it down. People who recommend you will also help you at difficult times. They will certainly support you after you have been promoted.

When unsure about your future, it is better to try career enhancement

One of the positive things I found though my management experience is that it makes it easier to do what I really want to do. Broadening my areas of responsibility has enabled me to see the situation surrounding me and prioritize operations. It makes it easier to persuade the people I consult about work, and helps me achieve more than when I was an engineer. Now that I am a manager, I take a less hands-on approach to work. This enables me to advise team members who are moving ahead through a process of trial and error on how to get closer to achieving their goals. Another unexpected advantage of becoming a manager is that it is now easier to control my own time. Since I get people to set up overall schedules that incorporate my own plans, I can use time and accomplish my work more effectively.

I also have more opportunities to meet people. Meeting and conversing with various people helps me expand my horizons. I feel this is positive both for my work and for my own life. If you cannot make up your mind about advancing your career, I strongly suggest that you give it a try in order to broaden your views and future options. The less idea you may have about your future, the more I believe it is worth taking up such challenges. People who are currently facing the tough challenge of balancing work and home life should remember that this situation does not continue forever. I think it is a great idea to broaden your options in preparation for when things change five or ten years from now.

Diversity and inclusion start with looking into people's eyes when you talk to them

As a manager, I always try to back up my team members just like my boss did for me in the past, and to avoid making premature assumptions about their potential. With members who are working shorter hours, for example, it is easy to assume they cannot take on more work than they are currently doing. In such cases, I make sure to confirm their intentions and let them decide whether to do something or not for themselves. I might be the only person who thinks it better to reduce their working hours when they themselves actually want to do more, and it may lead to the discovery of more efficient ways of working. Individual group members have different points of view and I try to make it easier for them to work, irrespective of whether they, men or women,are responsible for childcare. I also exchange views on how people are getting along, asking them whether they are allocated a reasonable amount of time for their duties, and eliciting proposals for making the workplace easier to work in.

I also try to look into people's eyes when I'm talking to them. If I am working at my PC, I make sure I stop typing and face people before I speak to them. I believe that accepting other people begins with looking into their eyes, and helps bring out individual strengths. As Sony employees go about their business, they accept colleagues with widely different work patterns and characters. In the past, there were times when the acceptance of my colleagues helped me manage both childcare and work. I strive to ensure everyone makes the most of their strengths while accepting their individual characteristics. I believe this is what ‘diversity and inclusion’ means at Sony.

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