Womenomics and the First Female Chef de Mission: Seiko Hashimoto

 Seiko Hashimoto, one of only two athletes to have competed in two different Olympic Games in the same year (Albertville and Barcelona in 1992)

Seiko Hashimoto, one of only two athletes to have competed in two different Olympic Games in the same year (Albertville and Barcelona in 1992)

The War for Talent is fierce in the industrialized world, and it is fiercest in Japan, where the demand in particular for global, bilingual talent is sky high. The bad news is that Japanese organizations and government have not figured out how to best utilize half that talent pool, women.

In August of this year, the Japanese government signed off on legislation that requires companies with 301 or more employees to share statistical data on what percentage of female hires and managers, as well as to set targets. There is a broader goal set by the government to have 30% of all managerial roles in Japan filled by women by 2020. According to a Goldman Sachs report mentioned in this Wall Street Journal article, figuring out how to fill the gender gap could result in an increase in GDP by about 13%. That’s what is meant by Womenomics.

But for women to achieve, they have to want to achieve. And very often it is the very lack of role models that keep the number of female managers and leaders down.

Enter Seiko Hashimoto. No one in Team Japan has participated in more Olympic Games than the woman from Hokkaido. Hashimoto, now Ishizaki, has appeared in the Winter Games of Sarajevo (1984), Calgary (1988), Albertville (1992), as well as Lillehammer in 1994, competing as a speed skater. She also used her powerful legs to compete as a cycling sprinter in the Summer Games of Seoul (1988), Barcelona (1992), and Atlanta (1996). That’s seven Olympic Games from 1984 to 1996!

Hashimoto, who is also a member of the House of Councillors in the Japanese government, has been named as the chef de mission of the Japan Olympic team for the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro. The chef de mission, according to the IOC, is the main liaison between the National Olympic Committee and the International Olympic Committee, and has the responsibility for all the competitors, officials and staff members of that particular national team. Hashimoto, as well as Kitty Chiller in Australia who was also named chef for Rio, are the first female chef de missions in the history of the Olympic Games.

Kitty Chiller, Australian pentathlete in the 2000 Sydney Games
Kitty Chiller, Australian pentathlete in the 2000 Sydney Games

The chef de mission of an Olympic team is the sole spokesperson, in a way, like the CEO, who represents the team not only to the IOC, but to the public. Most commonly, it is the chef de mission who has to put on the brave face when athletes or officials misbehave, but they also have the potential to rally the troops and inspire.

Why has it taken so long for women to lead an Olympic team? There are multiple reasons. Hopefully, the examples of Hashimoto and Chiller will be another step in breaking barriers and allowing talented women to show the world that leadership is far more abundant than previously believed…if only gender is ignored.