Feb 20, 2023CAREER & LIFE
Mutual understanding and problem solving as a team at DENSO
the life of a female engineer devoted to both her childcare and her work
Kazue Asano works for Future Plants Promotion Dept., Thermal Systems Manufacturing Div. 2 of DENSO Corporation. While raising her three children, she is building a fulfilling career at DENSO as a manager of a department with 20 or more associates. Thanks to the understanding and support of her colleagues, she has been able to overcome uncertainties as she balances her career and her family life. Let’s hear how her working style changed before and after her childcare leave, as well as her plans for the future.
Contents of this article
Not giving up on either career or family: taking childcare leave despite worries
Kazue Asano joined DENSO in 2005. As of December 2022, she belongs to Future Plants Promotion Dept., Thermal Systems Manufacturing Division 2.
Asano: “Future Plants Promotion Department is working to achieve our ‘Future Plants’ vision of our division. Within this department, I am in the Digital Promotion Section, which is carrying out digital transformation (DX) activities at four plants of Nishio Plant.
Specifically, we are promoting changes in operational styles within the plants by digitalizing non-digital operations to improve efficiency, and introducing Internet of Things (IoT) technologies, and so on. Our goal is to create good working environment for workers in plants. To this end we identify the needs of each plant and pursue appropriate solutions while referring to past measures implemented both at DENSO and other organizations.”
Asano has served as manager of the Digital Promotion Section since January 2021, and now leads a team of about 20 members.
Asano: “As a section manager, I focus on making achievement of a section and promoting personal growth of my members. I always consider what to do to develop the ability of my members considering their personal characters, and to connect them to the result of the team.”
While steadily furthering her career, Asano has also become a mother of three. She reflects back on the worries she encountered in the past.
Asano: “Almost all of my colleagues were men, none of whom had ever taken the childcare leave. Therefore, I was unsure whether I’d be able to continue my career while still spending enough time on childcare, because there was no one to talk with about the childcare leave, and because I had no idea what things would be like when I would return to work after leave.”
According to Asano, she didn’t know how to share her situation with her colleagues after returning to work from her first childcare leave, and so she had to shoulder that burden by herself.
Asano: “I knew that I wouldn’t have much time for work while my child was young, but I disagreed with the notion that one can’t continue to work while raising children. And so I wasn’t sure how much information about my home and family life I should share with my colleagues, and how to ask them for help when I needed it. Whenever I had to leave work early because my child got a fever or something, I felt really guilty.
Conversely, I worried that my child could not receive enough love from me when I was away from home for work for long. I struggled to balance work and home life, and even got sick from the stress a few times. But I didn’t ask anyone for help even when I needed it, because I assumed that I had to shoulder this burden by myself.”
With the birth of her second and third children, Asano took subsequent maternity and childcare leaves.
Asano: “When I took maternity and child-rearing leave for my second child, I decided to set my career aside for a time and focus solely on childcare. I was sure that I could regain any lost time in my career by working hard even after my leave.”
Improving thorough efficiency to balance work and childcare: the importance of solving problems as a team
Following Asano’s return from her second childcare leave, she changed her lifestyle and way of thinking to avoid being pressured by time.
Asano: “First, I improved household chores efficiency. I actively bought convenient home appliances such as a robot vacuum and a washer dryer, and I cooked breakfast using leftover from dinner the day before. Moreover, to avoid becoming too stressed with housework, I allowed myself to skip chores when I was too tired and take a break instead. In short, I tried to give myself more mental breathing space in my day-to-day life.”
She also improved work efficiency in various ways, and it resulted in major changes of priority of tasks, her values, and her attitude towards work.
Asano: “When my children were going to daycare, I needed to go pick them up at a certain time each day. Therefore, I divided my work into those which absolutely had to be completed onsite, and those which did not. Then, I finished the former tasks first, and the rest later at home.
I began to focus on ways to achieve the same work output as before by carefully considering deadlines, priorities and necessity of my works, and I think this revealed a lot of wastes and inefficiency of my previous works. My idea that I will do my work for now has changed to that I will check if it is really necessary to do.
Furthermore, she has made a determined effort to start asking others for help rather than trying to do everything by herself.
Asano: “Based on the thoughts of raising the children together as a family rather than doing it all by myself, I talked with my husband and his parents about helping to pick up and drop off my children for after school activities, joining school events, and helping out when my children suddenly got sick. It’s important to ask others for help and solve the problems as a team, rather than trying to do it all by yourself, in order to balance work and childcare.
When it comes to my work, usually sharing my tasks among the team makes it possible to proceed with my works without problem at a time of need. Even today, both my family and my colleagues help me out through this kind of cooperative approach. Thanks to them, I am who I am today. I’m immensely grateful for their support.”
Company systems for flexible working: one of the first employees to take advantage of the work-from-home system
Asano believes that it is the most important to gain the understanding of and the cooperation from others in order to balance work and childcare. When DENSO introduced their work-from-home system, she was the first to talk with her boss about taking advantage of it.
Asano: “Workplaces of the manufacturing facilities tend to have few workers who are also mothers of small children and so people aren’t accustomed to taking advantage of the work-from-home system there. It took a lot of courage to bring this up with my boss. However, he also had a child of the same age as mine and so he could immediately understand my situation.
But in reality there weren’t many colleagues taking advantage of the work-from-home system. I was unsure of how much work I could get done at home, I was worried whether I could make efficient improvements while also taking care of my children, and I was concerned about what others would think of me. I talked with my boss about these things each time, and he always listened to me patiently. As a result, I was able to gain the understanding and the support of others, and now I enjoy a more flexible working style not bound by time and space.”
According to Asano, the first few months after returning from her second leave were challenging for her because she was unable to get back to her usual working pace. But she stayed calm and focused, working on each task one at a time.
Asano: “I kept telling others clearly that despite having less time as a mother, I would make sure to get my work done. I wanted to try doing lots of different kinds of work and continue my personal growth at work while still taking care of my children, so I always asked my boss not to worry about me and to give me job opportunities more and more.”
Her boss understood her thoughts for her work and assigned her a number of big tasks. Asano recalls one assignment in particular.
Asano: “I was given the task of reporting the results of our department’s efforts to the company president and the Japanese Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry. It was very rewarding to have been given such an important job despite my time constraints due to childcare, and it made me enjoy my job much more. I was really pleased with it.”
Cultivating an organization where mutual support is natural
Moving forward, Asano wants to cultivate an organization where every member helps each other rather than takes it all on themselves so that they can work with peace of mind.
Asano: “In order to help each other at a time of need, it’s important to understand one another, including their personal lives. Every member has their share of problems in their life. Some members may care for the elderly at home, or their loved ones may suddenly get sick.
I think it’s important to foster an environment where everyone regularly reaches out to each other and provides close-knit and mutual support through good communication. This creates an organization where anyone can get the support they need at a time of need regardless of sex.”
Asano still has many years ahead at DENSO. Her children have grown up and her duties at home have been less demanding. With fewer demands on her, she is looking forward to using that newfound time and energy to challenge herself with various things.
Asano: “I have been extremely busy as a parent, but as I now have more time, I can think about how to serve people around me better. I haven’t decided what I do just yet, but I want to get involved in something that makes people smile and makes them happier.”
She also strongly wants to create a great work environment for women.
Asano: “I am the first female manager in the production engineering field at DENSO’s Thermal Systems Business Unit, so I should challenge myself to open the way for the sake of people in the future. If I simply put up with uncomfortable conditions or don’t speak my mind, then those women who follow me will end up having to do the same. Therefore, I want to create a work environment where women can play an active role as a matter of course.”
Asano works closely with those around her in order to enjoy both her work and childcare. As an engineer, a woman, and a mother, she will continue searching for her ideal approach to work and life, while also challenging herself.
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