Rika Beppu has more than 20 years’ experience advising on corporate M&A, joint ventures and commercial projects in London, Hong Kong and Tokyo, most recently with Squire Patton Boggs. But in addition to her legal expertise is her strong commitment to gender equality in her position as founding member and chair of Women in Law Japan.
For Beppu, Women in Law Japan was something that grew organically from her own networks of peers. “With a number of like-minded individuals, we hatched the idea of starting a new network in Japan, which started activities at the beginning of 2016,” she says.
“Now in its third year, we have more than 300 members and supporters who gather for events five times a year. The most exciting development this year is the launch of a mentoring programme across the legal profession in Tokyo, which will match potential mentees and mentors from an organization outside of your own, for a mentoring period of 12 months.”
Beppu says Women in Law Japan started by word of mouth. “We do not have any law firm or corporate sponsorships, so run the organization informally based on the participation fees for each event,” she says. “The naming of the network is deliberate, in that we want to capture the in-house counsel professionals who are not necessarily qualified lawyers, so the name ‘Women in Law’ works well in the legal environment in Japan.
“The network is run by 15 volunteers, who range from lawyers from Japan, the US, UK, India, Australia, etc., and are working at law firms or in in-house positions.”
With so few women occupying senior roles as lawyers and general counsel in Japan, the organization is definitely a needed one. “Some would argue that there is a small pool of lawyers in the first place, but I would not like to present that as the excuse,” says Beppu. “I can count on one hand the number of females in the role of general counsel in Japan, but hopefully the numbers will increase over the next 10 to 25 years!”
Beppu says there is certainly a lot more discussion in the workplace about the need to retain females and have role models in senior positions, but, “I will personally not be happy until I see a female president and CEO at a large, prominent, listed company in Japan”.
More needs to be done towards gender equity, she says. “I would like to suggest that Japanese society opens up and tries, slowly but surely, to eliminate the strict gender-biased roles that tradition dictates as “women stay at home and look after the children and the elderly” while the “men fight seven battles once they step out of their home”. I am hopeful that the generations to come will not put up with these gender-biased roles. Another thing would be to have parents in Japan who encourage their children to continue working, regardless of gender. Girls, be ambitious!”
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