Women of vision

Helping Japanese Housewives Find New Beginnings

    Japan's private and public sectors are on an aggressive drive to recruit more workers as they face a severe labor shortage. There's been a big push to get more women to join the workplace. But one group is being neglected -- women over 50. One woman is showing others it's never too late to start a new career.

    Cynthia Usui's message is simple. "Just give us a chance. After getting the chance, let’s show the power of housewives!" she says. Usui recently led a workshop for 50 women hoping to kick start their careers.

    "I have been a housewife for 19 years. But I didn't realize that I could still build a career until now," says a housewife in her late 40s. "We are only in our 50s. We still have a lot of energy," says one in her 50s. "There’s no job that requires as much multi-tasking and creativeness than being a housewife. We have not been considered an important asset. But we are!" says Usui.

    Usui came to Japan from the Philippines as a student in 1980. After graduating, she found work as a sales executive at an ad agency. Usui quit her job so that she could stay at home and raise her young family, like most women in her generation. Usui was happy. But things changed when her daughter asked if she'd have to give up her job if she wanted to be a mother like her.

    "I never wanted my daughter to think that her career must end once she concentrated on raising her child," says Usui. After dedicating 17 years to raising her family, she decided to return to the workforce. She started as a cafeteria worker in Bangkok where she lived with her family.

    But when Usui returned to Japan in 2011, she says it was difficult to find a job. She felt her age and time away limited opportunities. "I was so upset. I felt that society told me that I was useless, even though I had raised an excellent daughter," she says.

    She eventually found work as a receptionist. But the real breakthrough came a year later as a salesperson at a hotel. Before long, she was booking more rooms and banquets than anyone else. In just 3 years, she became the assistant director of her sales team and then the public affairs manager at one of Tokyo's premier 5 star hotels. "Her energy was incredible. I could not believe that she hadn't worked for so long," says ANA InterContinental Tokyo's Masakazu Yamada.

    Since then, she's written a book about her experiences to inspire others. She regularly receives letters and feedback from women who feel they've been left behind. "I feel that Japanese women over the age of 50 are ready to give up. I don't want them to be afraid to dream again," she says.

    One of the women she's helped is Miyuki Takahashi, who went back to work for the first time in 11 years. "There are going to be many guests staying at our hotel for the upcoming Tokyo Olympics. I want to develop my skills so I can do my best!" says Takahashi. "To be honest, when I hired her, I had concerns. But she has rich life experience and high communication skills," says Yamada.

    Currently, Usui is focusing on opening a tourism training course for housewives and senior citizens. "Since life expectancy is close to a hundred, I think people can build a career after spending 20 years raising a family. You could say it is about work-life balance. So, let’s take the first step!" she says.

    Usui says that her unique life path made her what she is today. She's trying to pave the way and show that new beginnings can start at any time.