Taking responsibility for childcare while working on the things I want to

Taking responsibility for childcare while working on the things I want to

Tatsuya Watanabe
AI Robotics Business Group SR Business Office Software Development Sec.2

In-house recruitment system provides an opportunity to work on product development

As I majored in physics at university, I never thought of finding employment with an electronics manufacturer. Only Sony interested me because of its advanced, stylish corporate image, so I decided to take its employment test. At the time, Sony did not hire applicants based on their choice of occupational category, so when I was asked during the interview whether I wanted to work in "set development" or device development, I answered device (component) development. "Set development" is Sony's in-house jargon for developing finished products, but I gave my answer because I did not know that at the time, even though I wanted to be involved in product development. Unsurprisingly, I was assigned to the Device Development Department in Sendai after I passed the test, and was eventually put in charge of R&D into display devices. Though device development was far removed from the work I wanted to do in product development, I started studying on device frantically from scratch as I had no knowledge at the time and I thought I had to do so at my first career step.
When I started thinking about my career plans after working in Sendai for three years, I realized that I still wanted to work on developing products that customers would use. As I explored how to find work in product development, I discovered the in-house recruitment system. This is one of Sony's human resource schemes for recruiting talented people from within the company, and any employee with the necessary qualifications can apply. I thought this was a wonderful scheme because most employees who have been assigned to regional business sites like me do not know anyone working in departments in charge of development operations at head office in Tokyo or the Atsugi site in Kanagawa. Through this scheme, I applied for a transfer to work on product development in the Digital Camera Software Development Department in Tokyo, and was accepted.

Thanks to the cooperation of my superiors and colleagues, I became the first male in the workplace to take childcare leave

In my new workplace, I was involved in developing software for playing back images in the digital camera's main body, and for transferring images via networks. I was eventually promoted to the position of Supervisor, where I gained experience in managing projects and employees. In my private life, I married and became father to a son. After the birth, my wife was eligible to take childcare leave, but she wanted to return to work because she liked her job. Since I wanted to create time to be with my son, I considered taking childcare leave myself if he could not enter a nursery school at the time my wife went back to work. In the end, he was not able to attend nursery school, so I applied for childcare leave. Since I was the first male employee to apply from my workplace, it took quite a bit of courage to broach the subject with my superiors and colleagues. Once I spoke to everyone about it, however, they all understood and were very supportive, and thanks to their cooperation in taking over and following up on my work, I was able to feel easy about taking leave.
On this occasion, I used Sony's childcare leave scheme, but the company has various other schemes to support people who want to work while raising children. At first, it is a little difficult to judge which scheme to use because there are so many of them. According to your family circumstances and career plan, eventually you find the suitable plan. So, system is actually pretty flexible to use.

Experience taught me that men should also be responsible for childrearing

Spending some time with my son at my family home was one of the best things I got from taking childcare leave. It also enabled me to do something nice for my parents because my son became very attached to them, making it a very happy time for them, too. People from the provinces are not usually able to return to their roots for long periods, so this was a very valuable experience. Another good thing was that concentrating on childrearing and housework during my leave later enabled me to do what I have to do more efficiently. I learned to enjoy childrearing and housework because my resistance to them disappeared.
Originally, I was not the type of person to get proactively involved in childrearing, but I during my leave I tackled the task with the view that all responsibility for doing it lay with me. I realized that I had not been actively involved in childrearing up to that point because I probably unconsciously thought that it was my wife's responsibility. I have been proactively involved ever since. However, as I spent a lot of time alone with my son, I found it increasingly difficult because I lacked conversations with other people. My attitude towards childrearing changed dramatically. I had heard about how tough it can be and learned to feel deep gratitude for everything my wife had done up until that time. Both my wife and I have been working full time since my leave ended, but we also cooperate by splitting childrearing and housework. As we are both busy, we share task lists via our smartphones, and endeavor to respond flexibly when one of us is less busy than the other. In that sense, I think taking childcare leave has enabled us to realize a happy family lifestyle.

(Top) Nursery school entrance ceremony
(Bottom) A family picnic

Childcare leave has encouraged me to take up new work challenges

Taking childcare leave also gave me the opportunity to review my career to date. This was the first time I had ever taken time off for as long as seven months, but after I returned to work, I was confident that I would have no problems continuing what I was doing, and had no particular concerns or conflicts. However, the flip side was that my work only required my current skill levels. I realized that further growth would become difficult if I simply continued doing the same work, and decided to take up the challenge of a new job. Departments that work on developing camera software are large, and provide experience in developing large systems. On the other hand, I was often only involved in part of the development process, and began to think that my next step should be to learn new things through various jobs. Just around that time, the AI Robotics Department started looking in-house for someone to work on software development, so I decided to apply because the organization was small and I was interested in AI and the cloud.
Today, I am in charge of developing software for the aibo entertainment robot. aibo grows and changes through links with the cloud, and my job is developing the software that links its artificial intelligence with the cloud. I find I'm studying all the time because this area of technology is totally different from anything I have done so far, but I enjoy it immensely because I feel I am growing. Since there are relatively few people in the department, I am able to work in a wide range of areas. I am delighted because I can absorb so much new knowledge while experiencing so many things. Many of the other men in the department are very active in both work and childrearing. Since this involves things like leaving the office early to pick up children from nursery school, we are constantly adjusting schedules and coordinating work support. Some of my colleagues have children the same age as my son, so we often spend lunchtimes exchanging information on what they have started doing and what they are learning.

Childcare leave also provides an opportunity for further personal development

The environment at Sony is such that if you offer to do something, you will be allowed to do it. Colleagues will respect you and cooperate if you tell them you want to do something, whether it is work or childcare. While the number of members of the younger generation actively involved in childcare -- often called ikumen in Japan -- is increasing, I hear there are many companies where the idea that "a woman's place is in the home" still lingers. That sort of atmosphere does not exist in Sony. I have never seen anyone interfering in others' private lives, or making negative comments about taking leave. As a result, even a man like me did not feel it was difficult to take childcare leave.
Childcare leave provided me with a chance to improve the way I live and work. Speaking from my own experience, I think it is a great idea for men to take childcare leave if they have the chance. Some people may worry that doing so will inconvenience their superiors and colleagues, but I think they will willingly provide support so long as the leave-takers are serious in the way they tackle their daily work, and help others as a team. Moreover, there are many things that don't go as well as you hope when you are dealing with children during leave. I believe that experiences like this help you grow as a human being.

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