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Campus Now

New Year Issue (Jan.)

A message to our second century

I am what I am now by being continuously obsessed with my way of life

Naoki Atsumi
Director of Diversity and Work-life Balance Research Department at Toray Corporate Business Research, Inc.

Mr. Atsumi started off with research in social security and now deals with diversity and work-life balance, a hot topic at the moment. Requests for him to work and give lectures come from all around the country. In October he also gave a lecture at our university titled "Ideology and Practice of Work-life Balance - Raising the Performance of Companies with Many Ikumen (stay-at-home fathers)" (hosted by the Gender Equality Promotion Office), and was attended by more than 220 participants including many males.

I learned to respect others from my parents

--Why did you choose diversity and work- life balance as your research topic?

I love children and from my mid 20s, when I had no children of my own, I hosted a children's group in my area. In the group, I read picture-card stories to the children, and played baseball and soccer with them. The time spent with the children was something irreplaceable for me, so it was natural for me to have an interest in childrearing environment, and I became involved in this current research topic.

In childrearing, things like children groups have a great bearing on diversity in the community. Also, in demanding various individual traits such as a child who can study, a child good at sport, or a kind-natured child, childrearing in itself is diverse. On the other hand, when thinking of a workplace where one can work while raising children, one comes to the conclusion of a balanced working life. Diversity and a work-life balance are generally regarded as two separate things, but I began this research from the same starting point.

--So the starting point for your current research was childrearing. How did you spend your own childhood?

I wasn't raised in a wealthy home, but I feel I had a happy childhood. My father was a carpenter and my mother worked in a doctor's office. I think it was before I started school, but one day while I was playing in the park I heard a passerby saying, "The carpenter who lives in that run-down house doesn't have much craftsmanship to show for." It is true to say that our house wasn't much. When I ran home in tears and told my mother the details, she comforted me by saying, "This house may be run-down, but your father is working hard to build us a better house, so let's support him. It may be hard for you now, but the day will come when you look back on this as a good experience." On the other hand, my father, also, was always grateful to my mother who supported the household. The true nature of diversity and a work-life balance lies in showing respect to others. We were poor, but I think that being raised in a family where my parents thanked each other and were full of respect for each other had a huge influence on what I am now.

Think about "how to live", and decide your own path

--You have taken parental leave twice and are known as a "stay-at-home father" who has put into practice a work-life balance. Is there anything you have gained by actually taking parental leave?

When I first started doing housework and raising our child, I was amazed by the things that needed to be done. It was a good opportunity for me to know how much I hadn't done up until then. Also, I took the parental leave before changing to my present company and, at the time, I couldn't gain the understanding of those around me. The tendency of the typical businessman to continue working without taking leave remained, and more than anything, I was the first male to take parental leave. The harsh criticism I received may have been deservedly so. I pleaded with the company not to give me a low evaluation due to my parental leave. I thought that if my evaluation was lowered, people would stop taking parental leave. Of course, I couldn't just demand my rights, I had to promise that my work performance wouldn't drop. In the end, the personnel manager and company president became involved and I somehow got them to accept my conditions, but hard feelings remained.

--You had a very hard time, didn't you?

In the end I changed jobs, but it was all a path I chose myself. In my life, I think I want to be obsessed with how I live. What are important, including work, is how I lead my life, and what kind of existence I have. Come to think of it, the same goes for when I chose this research topic. I started out by researching social security, but I remember people around me asking with puzzled looks, "Why did you choose a socially secluded theme like social security?" But it doesn't matter to me whether my research theme stood out socially or not. I want the world to move, even slightly, in the right direction. I simply started my research from that thought. While deriving my research from social security to diversity and a work-life balance, my interest in society also grew, but this was not because I had a clear vision, it was purely coincidental. Even if it wasn't put in the spotlight, I think I would be continuing the same research.

Believing that action now will one day change the world

--Even if interest in Japan has risen, I think it is still difficult for males to take parental leave. Will the trend change in the future?

Businesses are already starting to be polarized and this will be even more noticeable in the future. Businesses which realize diversity and a work-life balance will attract excellent personnel, and it is said that as a result, high motivation will be maintained and effective systems created. Also, a diverse staff who can work in a pleasant atmosphere will easily produce innovative products and services, raising a company's competitive strength. I think this is exactly what is needed in Japanese companies today, but the perceptions of the generation who succeeded by working furiously are hard to change. I call these people who are not open to change the "clay layer," and especially, I feel many of them are section and department managers, the leaders of the workplace.

Heading to work after dropping his two children off at nursery school

--Mr. Atsumi, you are conducting activities of enlightenment for the "clay layer", right?

They are quite stubborn. No matter how hard I try to persuade them, some just won't listen at all. But in this group, there are some people who have changed at the thought of seeing their own daughter working and coming home late every night. I think it will still take a while before the whole of society changes, but I intend to continue these activities in a steady manner.

--In the lecture meeting at our university, male students were also positive in asking questions. What are your impressions of this?

They listened attentively and responded well, and appeared to comfortably absorb my talk. I felt they were extremely talented and their questions were appropriate and of a high level.

--Finally, please tell us your expectations for this university.

Diversity promotion in the university itself. When looking at the international stage, the more a university promotes gender and racial diversity, the higher the research results become. I definitely hope this becomes a university which brings together an abundance of diversity in the form of students, staff and faculty members. University is an important place for students to decide how to live their long lives. By promoting diversification, I want this to become a university overflowing with even more attractiveness.

Naoki Atsumi
Director of Diversity and Work-life Balance Research Department at Toray Corporate Business Research, Inc.

Born in 1968. Graduated from the department of Politics, Faculty of Law, University of Tokyo. Entered FUJI Research Institute Corporation in 1992. After working at Fujitsu Research Institute, took up his current position in June 2009. His major subjects of research are Diversity and Work-life Balance. Actively conducts consultations for companies and local governments. Also holds a lot of lecture meetings, and gave a lecture on Work-life Balance at Waseda University on October 22, 2010.
He is a father of two children and took paternity leave twice in the past, what we call, "Ikumen [men who are willing to taking care of their children]". His motto is "Three aspects of citizen are a family man, local man, and career man"