It has been over a year since 25-year-old Bonolo Mogotsi packed her bags and left her beloved country in search for cultural stimulation, and set sail to the cultural haven that is Japan. Currently residing in Fukuoka City and building her career in cultural internationalization through education, Bonolo gives us insight into what she believes the Millennial South African woman can learn from her Japanese counterpart.
As an expat living in Japan, I have had the privilege of receiving a firsthand glimpse into the centuries-old culture of its people. I have been observing, absorbing and implementing what I experience on a daily basis through interaction with friends, colleagues and students in different areas of my life such as career, health and lifestyle. It is no secret that the Japanese are a hard-working nation, and no underlying mystery lies in their industriousness. Japan would not be where she is today had it not been for the loyalty, dedication and hard work of its people. With just over a year in Japan, the experience has left a huge positive impression as well as an inspired thinking of what South Africans, millennial women in particular, could learn from this experience.
But why, you may ask, a focus on millennial women? And who are they? What is their significance in the 21st century?
Millennial women- born between the years of 1980 and 1995- are part of a generation that`s bigger than the baby boomers (their predecessors). The make-up of the labour force is not the only thing that has changed, but, globally, according to OECD Statistics “women now account for a majority of students in 93 countries, while men are only favored in 46. Additionally, South Africa is among the countries where women are awarded 61% of tertiary qualifications”, – it is no wonder then, that I have chosen to place emphasis on the importance of this chosen section of the population and focus on SA millennial women’s contribution in reviving the economy.
Studies done by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) indicate that millennial women believe “work-life balance is achievable and don’t see gender bias as an issue”.
They’re entering a workforce that is 50% women and will soon dominate the workplace. This is a group that Managing Director of Accenture, Monica Raubombora, referred to as “more au fait with technology and they are using it to enhance their efficiency and enable productivity”.
In short, if you check your Facebook timeline at least once a week, cannot live without your iPad/PC, and prefer to do online banking rather than carrying cash, you are probably a millennial woman. With numerous reports focusing on millennial women, as well as the significant proportion of the current and future pool in the labour industry, it has become clear that millennial women have a large impact on our culture, government and the workplace.
Perhaps for a lasting and sustainable transformation to happen in South Africa, where millennial women are able to help revive the economy, build a lasting legacy and make the country a better place sustainable to feed its population, there are some lessons we can draw from the Japanese.
It’s about the Collective. For Japan, being a collective and working together has helped build the country’s economy after World War II through industrialization. But to fully understand this phenomenon of the Japanese’ emphasis on “collectivism” we should dig deeper into Japanese cultural values. According to women`s leadership expert and coach, Monique Svazlian, “For the Japanese, every person has a role to play towards the collective. There is no “me” only the “we” – there is a conscious knowing that whatever one does affects the whole”. Even a worker with minimal skills, takes pride in their work and does it to the best of their ability because they realize their output will affect everyone else. This is a direct contradiction to what we South Africans have been previously taught, which centers around the individual. (I do admit that collectivism and individualism both have their pros and cons). Everything from work, to economics to politics is centered around, me.
We tend to think of how I can get ahead; how to advance myself; and that is usually at the price of others. Instead of us respecting and rewarding menial jobs, we pay minimal wage, or look down on job titles. Instead of investing money in people and building a sustainable education system which would have a lasting effect on the country, we further put an expensive price tag on education, creating an environment where the poor are unable to access the best resources to further harness their skills – the gap between our Public and Private schools is pure evidence of this. Students from the former do not have access to necessary learning resources that is conducive for learning, whereas the latter are at a better standing point to kick start their education.
When you spend time in a place where both the employers and the government genuinely care about its people, the desire for South Africans to adopt more of a “we” orientation surfaces.
The second tier of our learning lessons from our Japanese counterparts are the attributes of diligence, respect, and adherence to the law. All these words sound so simple and in retrospect we all believe we represent these sound features. However, in a country like South Africa which has the highest rape cases, where hate crimes are the norm and acceptance of our unsafe surroundings are commonplace, one may question whether we truly play our role as citizens of this country. When we look to the alarming prevalence of robbery, and constant prejudges against people’s religion and homosexuality – it all essentially narrows down to one central factor: lack of respect for others. Not so for the Japanese. Respect is the backbone of their culture. This is ingrained in their rituals and traditions. Being bowed to when you leave an establishment, or even have your boss show you great respect and appreciation as their employee is the norm. The Japanese’ daily practice of respect, which we often overlook, can really go a long way in both our lives and career.
It stands to reason that if you have a meeting with a potential client or a potential boss, you are aware of the importance of keeping time and respecting their time too. The Japanese are particular with time and regard people by showing up to a meeting 15 minutes beforehand without fail; trains run by the second and not a minute late or early. There is so much order in Japan only because people know the importance of respecting others in everything they do!
Lastly, Japan has been referred to as the land of innovation with much emphasis placed on health. They have perfected the art of taking something that exists and making it better. They don’t complain about their situation, they simply make the most of what they have. It is startling to see how they have taken US-based models and perfected them to meet the needs of their market.
For example, my American friends are often shocked at how the well-known American franchise 7/11 is run here. These establishments are 24 hours a day 7 days a week, the shop assistants help you with a big smile on their face and the store has every essential you need. Hygiene is heightened in the way their electric bathrooms open the moment your cubicle door is opened, and culture is awakened and embraced through the wide selection of international foods that are perfected and mastered! The creativity it takes to stimulate this type of novelty stems from their notion of collaboration.
As millennial women we have to prove ourselves more than our counterparts in both the private and public sphere. It is important to realize that change comes from within, keeping in mind your role in society and how your contribution affects the entire team`s outcome. Seeing ourselves as being part of a global community, and where everyone’s contribution is as important as the leader.
Health is a big contributor to an employee’s productivity. If you are sickly and unhealthy, you cannot produce the results you may desire. Japanese employers have yearly full body health checks for every employee, insuring they are able to perform their duties. These yearly health checks include urine tests, X-Rays, weight, eye-test, hearing etc. which are all catered and financed by the employer. This point ties in with how every employee is valued in a company. I know South African companies are not compelled to finance these tests, but perhaps it is important for individuals to take it upon themselves to look after their health. Yearly checks are important to detect any issues that need immediate attention. With regular checks, and remembering your role in society, one needs to adapt a healthy lifestyle.
Regular walks, starting a new hobby, cycling to the store rather than driving, constant water consumption, meditation, yoga, and clean eating would all contribute to a healthy lifestyle. To be the best of herself, the Millennial woman could certainly learn from the Japanese’ culture of health and self-awareness, collaboration with influential women around her and respect for others!
Credentials: BA (Hons) International Relations, University of the Witwatersrand
Current City: Pretoria, South Africa. At the time of submission of this article, Bonolo was working for the Fukuoka Prefectural Board of Education, SHS Division in Fukuoka, Japan. Bonolo has since moved back to South Africa to pursue her career back home.