Company country manager. Supermarket cashier. Author. Mother. Many have used these words to define Cynthia Usui, and in the same breath, to judge her. Cynthia Usui has built a reputation in the Japanese media for climbing the career ladder in hyperspeed after devoting 17 years of her life to raising her daughter. Despite limited job choices, an empty resume and a huge statistical disadvantage compared to her male counterparts, she now runs three establishments as LOF Hotels‘ country manager and has written three books in Japanese about his experiences. Her works include “Eight Things Full-Time Housewives Should Do Before Getting a Job,” a memoir about raising her daughter, and “You Can Control Your Own Life.”
Usui’s hands-on approach says if you want to be a stay-at-home mom, do it. If you want to pursue your career, do it. And, if you want to be both in your life, do it. “What I realized is that yes, I can have it all, but I don’t need to have it all at the same time.
In these books, she guides mothers to the proverbial horse with her candid advice. “To say that we should choose to work on things that we are passionate about is a statement from a very authoritative person,” Usui said. Metropolis. “Not all of us are lucky enough to be able to make a living doing what we love to do.”
“In my book, I am quite the opposite. You have to look at your potential; and at the same time, you have to look at your limits. If you want a job in the United States but you don’t even speak English, how can you even think about it without learning English first? The number one limitation is that we all have 24 hours in a day. Just being brilliant doesn’t get you an extra 24 hours. So what do you do with your 24 hours?
In the past, Usui has run onboarding courses for stay-at-home moms to develop and develop their skills outside of the job market, and has pledged to hire the same group in her role as country manager. It was one of her stipulations when she accepted the job.
What I realized is that yes, I can have it all, but I don’t need to have it all at the same time.
“I actively hire housewives and single mothers. Instead of just putting an ad on a job board, I’m going to spread the word in those particular communities. I negotiated 100% authority to be able to hire the people I work with. What female leader would give up half of her potential income to have full control over HR? That’s why I say I lead by example,” she laughs. “I get things done because I’ve been able to give up something to get what I want.”
Change comes from the top. With less than 10% of women in Japan in leadership positions and a dismal place on the Global Gender Gap Report 2021, we need more women like Usui pushing for power. In addition to hiring struggling mothers who need a helping hand, she also uses the LOF Hotel Shimbashi lobby as a free exhibition space for female artists. “People gave me the opportunity, and that’s why I’m where I am right now. I believe in paying it forward.
Besides finding a job, there are other obstacles that women, and even the fathers, a need to overcome when leaving or returning to work after the birth of their child. The term mataharai.e. maternity-related harassment, has been a widespread problem in Japan for many years, with unprecedented cases of power harassment, abuse and torment by co-workers.
Usui reflects on the endless sway in Japanese public thought about mothers and how she was treated during her 17 years at home. “At that time, women who continued to work were judged as bad mothers. I was the norm: someone who got married, had kids, and became a stay-at-home mom. Then suddenly things changed. It was the women who simultaneously worked and raised their children who became the “capable women”, and all those women who stayed at home were suddenly the “useless women”. Pardon the word, but what kind of shit is that? You’re sort of judging women, and then you go the other way and judge another group of women.
These judgments, unexpected daycare closures due to the pandemic, and the balancing act between work and child-rearing have thrown many mothers into an epidemic of “mom guilt.” A survey conducted by Nikkei Womenomics Project found that 75% of working women suffer from the condition, despite spending more time on household chores than their male partners. Why, then, is it an essentially female phenomenon?
“There is no term for ‘working father’. We have the term ‘mom track’, but we don’t have the term ‘dad track’,” Usui explains.
“I don’t think the problem is supporting mothers. I don’t think it’s the question of the return of women to society either. This is the problem of fathers who have to go to homes, ”she continues. “We are doing everything we can to get women back to work. But maybe the solution here is to do all we can so that fathers can be more active parents. Why is it all about women? Why do we force all women to juggle work and parenthood? Maybe we should lower the expectations of men so they can handle parenting as well.