You have just arrived to college and begun your first semester. You might ask yourself: How do I make an impact on campus? What club or organization should I get involved with? What choices will give me the best experience during my time here? All of a sudden the concept of leadership floats into the picture. Most American college students can see the benefit leadership would have on their professional development. If you’re reading this and working in Student Affairs, at some point you probably got involved in leadership on campus and that led you to a career in Higher Education.
Now that I’m here in Student Affairs, how do I teach about leadership? When I think back to my leadership experience, there were nights spent learning how to facilitate icebreaker activities and how to speak honestly with tact. Now I work for Showa Boston: the international campus for about 200 Japanese women studying-abroad. How do I teach leadership to a class of students who haven’t had the opportunity to hold any leadership positions? In my initial planning phase, I distributed a survey to assess their interpretation of leadership for women in Japan. For many of these students, they have been led to believe there are not many leadership opportunities for women in Japan. Traditional thinking has been that women should stay at home after marriage. About 60% of married women quit or change their job. Although there are signs of improvement in terms of education and wages parity, gender stereotyping is still common in Japan, and women themselves express lower levels of ambition to reach leadership positions. Japan thus has one of the lowest levels of female representation on boards and executive committees in Asia. Men are considered highly above women in Japan. Japanese women are taught to behave shyly and to harmonize with other people. If a Japanese woman spoke her opinion, this act could be considered rude. Why would this assumed? If a Japanese woman cannot even voice her own opinion, how could she ever lead a team or prove her point of interest.
As more women are attending universities in Japan, there has to be more leadership opportunities offered in the future. History cannot repeat itself and the negative image of Japanese women in leadership has to stop. On a smaller scale at Showa Boston, I am taking steps to provide students with an opportunity to learn about leadership and take on roles on campus. I believe that they can learn how to communicate within a team and support their fellow leaders. They should also feel confident motivating peers and encouraging others to pursue their dreams. I want my students to be able resolve conflict and delegate tasks to their peers as needed.
Although I wish that these skills could be taught overnight, that is not the case for international students. To build a solid foundation for international student-leaders, you have to set targets and track progress. Target setting helps make more students take personal responsibility for making change happen, rather than leaving it to Student Affairs. Targets need to be set for the proportion of students in these leadership roles, but in a way that ensures only the best students are selected. Target setting also encourages Student Affairs to monitor women’s presence throughout the department. This will also help us uncover the leaks and blockages in the leadership development.
If initiatives do not appear on campus, then leadership opportunities will never exist for these students. Leadership experience has to be well-planned and implemented in a simple enough way that each student can understand the basic nuts and bolts of leadership philosophy. A well-balanced leadership program will help support, change, and leave no one in doubt as to the importance of bringing more Japanese women into leadership positions.