Ambassador Kennedy Speaks at the ACCJ Women in Business Summit

Good Morning. Thank you Elizabeth. Congratulations Jay on some really powerful remarks, and thank all of you for inviting me back to this important gathering. I’d like to commend the members of the ACCJ Women in Business committee, Elizabeth and Deborah Hayden for all your contributions to making this conference such a success. The partnership between the ACCJ and the Embassy is critical to our mission, and we work hard to contribute to the success of your companies here in Japan.

There is no more urgent or important factor in the long-term profitability of your companies – and the Japanese economy – than the full and fair participation of women.

I’d like to applaud Prime Minister Abe and his government for their deep and consistent commitment to the advancement of women at all levels of business, government, academia and society. And I’d like to compliment the companies and ministries that have made hiring and promotion of women a top priority. It’s great to see progress in such a short time. And I want to also congratulate the Prime Minister on being recognized by the United Nations as a male champion of change. I want to congratulate the ACCJ on devoting the resources and effort to the upcoming white paper that Jay referred to.

The blue print takes a—so white paper and a blue print. It takes practical approach, outlining necessary reforms that will benefit all workers. These include increasing productivity through merit-based evaluations, the value of mentoring programs for men and women, greater transparency in hiring and promotion for managers, not just directors, and tax-code changes to level the playing field.

Each of these ideas has been the subject of considerable discussion. Further debate is needed here today and beyond to make sure they are embraced and implemented. That’s where all of you in this room can, and must, play a vital role. This isn’t going to happen just because it is the right thing to do.

It won’t happen just because it will make companies more profitable and competitive, or even because it will increase GDP over the next 20 years. Change won’t happen unless there is broad-based public support and strong demand. Progress is going to have to continue and to become unavoidable and inevitable. The cost of inaction is going to have to become higher than the rewards of action in order for people in power to change entrenched systems and alter the status quo.

The good news is that in just a year and a half since I arrived in Japan, I’ve already seen changes take place. People who have spent years advocating for women’s advancement tell me that this really is a different time. We have a moment of opportunity that we cannot take for granted. There is leadership at the top, and a growing number of talented qualified women are advancing in all professions. The broad recognition that Japan’s role as a global leader for peace and human rights is incompatible with the dismal treatment of working women here at home, and is bringing urgency to the effort.

This symposium last year kicked off a series of events that culminated in the WAW! Conference sponsored by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. And now we are back here again, and momentum is growing. The ACCJ report will lay down a marker, UN Women is opening an office here in Tokyo this summer, and there is unprecedented worldwide interest in the upcoming second WAW! Conference. That means that we need to continue to show concrete progress, and that is why everyone in this room has to make a personal and professional commitment to this issue. Many of you may already feel you have a lot on your plate but you are still contributing just by being here today. Others will want to do more by continuing to set an example that will inspire their co-workers and friends. The pioneering anthropologist, Margaret Mead, once said, “Never doubt the power of a small group of committed people to change the world. In fact, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

In order to bring about progress, we need to become architects of change – within our own lives, and in helping others. For me, the best way to develop those skills is to study those who have made a difference, who overcame obstacles, refused to be limited by low expectations, and achieved remarkable success. I thought I’d share 3 American examples with you this morning, and hope you will find them useful as well.

Nancy Pelosi became the first woman Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives in 2006. She also was just recently awarded the Grand Cordon of the Order of the Rising Sun by the Government of Japan for her contributions strengthening the U.S.-Japan relationship. As Speaker, mother of five, and grandmother of nine, she was third in line to the Presidency.

Although she grew up in a political family – her father was the mayor of Baltimore, Maryland near Washington, D.C. – she married her college boyfriend, Paul Pelosi, moved to California and had five children within six years. It wasn’t until her children were growing up that she became active in local Democratic Party politics. That’s because she saw politics as an extension of motherhood.

“There are issues like clean air, clean water, and safe food that you want for your family, but that you can’t have without the right public policy – so you have to get involved in the political system” she said. She never thought of running for office until her long-time mentor and local Congresswoman got sick and told Nancy that she had to take over her seat. According to Nancy, it’s not because the Congresswoman thought she was the most qualified. It’s because the Congresswoman didn’t like any of her rivals. I am guessing that many of us in this room can relate to that. Women often lack confidence in their own abilities, but anyone who knows Nancy Pelosi can understand why she was chosen.

Describing the transition from being at home to pursuing a career is not as hard as it looks if you break it down, Leader Pelosi says. First, you need to Own Your Experience. Don’t worry if you have “only been a mom” – the skills required to raise a family and manage a household are valuable in any workplace. Second, learn about an issue you care about and master it so that no one can make you feel uninformed. Third, set clear goals and a timetable for yourself. And lastly, trust yourself and share your story. Each of us has to make a decision to take responsibility for our own lives – to figure out what made you do that and when. We can all learn from each other and sharing our experiences is the way to build strength and move forward together.

Most importantly, and this certainly resonated with me – organize, don’t agonize. [Laughs] It’s not worth your time to list all the reasons why you can’t do something. Find people with a positive attitude and figure out what you can do together. You may not be able to change the world at first, but you can change a friend, you can change a room, you can change a company.

Look at the story of MomsRising – an American grassroots advocacy organization that began with a handful of friends in 2006. It spread slowly at first, became hundreds of people, then thousands, and it now has a membership of over 1 million people, 100 affiliated organizations, and 1000 bloggers. They all advocate for issues affecting families such as Maternity and Paternity Leave, Open and Flexible Work Schedules, Early Childhood Education and Childcare, Equal Pay and a Living Wage. Using technology, MomsRising has grown into a powerful force for change. It is racking up public policy wins in cities, states and at the federal level, as well as in workplaces nationwide. Maybe something like MomsRising could start here in Japan.

Just as Nancy Pelosi has inspired a generation of women in politics, there are women in the private sector who are changing the corporate world. One of these is Marillyn Hewson, the CEO and President of Fortune 500 company #59 – Lockheed Martin. Known primarily as an aerospace company and maker of fighter planes, Lockheed Martin has diversified into an information technology company with cutting edge cloud computing, cybersecurity, and biometrics businesses, as well as launching satellites, pioneering cutting edge robotics, and nanotechnology research and development.

Hewson is the daughter of an Army civilian administrator and an Army Nurse who met while serving at Fort Riley, Kansas. She credits the patriotism of her parents for inspiring her choice of her career. Hewson is a committed champion of diversity – believing strongly that having men and women with a range of ideas in your company and on your leadership team is the key to success and profitability. Lockheed Martin stock prices have doubled since she became CEO so she must be right! In addition, Hewson spends a great deal of her time on talent development. She created a space for women to come together and talk about their shared challenges and experiences. It started as a happy hour, then it became a dinner, and now, in its 12th year, it is a full day of discussion and professional development in which over 350 men and women participate.

Hewson’s principles of empowerment are not that different from Nancy Pelosi’s. Decide for yourself what you want, and then own that decision. Take charge of your career. Personally and professionally do what is the right thing for you. Always accept a challenge. Don’t set limits on yourself and be willing to get out of your comfort zone. Invest in your own development by being a mentor or finding a mentor. Embrace diversity, think of those who helped you and pay those dividends forward by championing others to succeed.

In addition to trailblazing in government and large corporations, more women are becoming entrepreneurs. Often women start businesses because we can’t find a job that allows us to fulfill our family responsibilities, and our dreams at the same time. The systems and structures of corporations or government don’t fit with the realities of our lives. We can’t work the same hours as men when we have young children or aging parents, and we get sick of the fact that our bosses don’t value our ideas sufficiently. Or we’re the kind of people that have a dream and are fearless enough to make it come true.

Diane von Furstenberg is one of those people. Her mother was imprisoned in Auschwitz and had Diane only 18 months after she was released even though the doctors told her she was too weak to have a baby. Diane credits her mother with her passion for life and for teaching her that “Fear is not an option and no matter what happens, never be a victim.”

She married young and very well and like millions of other immigrants before her, she came to America with determination and a dream – to have a career of her own. Unlike other immigrants, she came to America on an ocean liner, with a prince, but after that it was all up to her. She started her company in 1970 with $30,000 and four years later, as a divorced mother of two young children, she became an international sensation when she invented the wrap-dress at the age of 28. The women’s movement was gathering steam and women were entering the workforce in record numbers. The wrap dress became the expression of a busy generation’s need to work hard and look good at the same time.

The years passed and her business fell apart but in 1997, she relaunched the wrap dress to a whole new generation. Now remarried, and a grandmother of four, she has built DVF into a multimillion dollar worldwide lifestyle brand and has served as the President of the Council of Fashion Designers of America for the past 10 years.

When asked about the key to success, she says it is “Trust Yourself. In order to trust yourself, you have to have a relationship with yourself. You have to be hard on yourself, and not be delusional. You have to be able to be alone, to be able to think, to be able to count on yourself, to be able to console yourself, inspire yourself, and be able to give yourself advice.”

So Nancy Pelosi, Marilyn Hewson and Diane von Furstenberg are models of different kinds of success. But they’re all wives, mothers, colleagues and teachers. They have different strengths but they are all passionately committed to women’s empowerment. And the rest of us can learn from their experience and their wisdom.

So as we look ahead to the empowerment of women in Japan and the United States, we know we have a long way to go – but there are people to help us, to inspire us, and to lead us at every step of the way. There is no turning back. And there is a whole new generation of young women and men who are counting on us to succeed. Today, we should reaffirm our commitment to ourselves and to each other that we will work as hard as we can from the moment we walk out of this room so that when we all meet again next year, we can talk about the progress we’ve made.

Thank you very much.