By Takako Hashimoto, IEEE R10 Director-Elect (2023-24)
Finding role models is crucial for us women developing our careers. Equally important is meeting someone who offers opportunities. Such persons are often superiors at work or, in organizations like IEEE, they are experienced, senior volunteers. They may be male or female. But in Japan, a very conservative country where I built my career, most decision-makers had been men. Within this context, there were certainly not many who encouraged minority women and offer opportunities for our career development. One such person is Prof. Akinori Nishihara. I want to talk about him in this article.
I first met Prof. Nishihara in 2008. It was when I assumed the role of Secretary for the IEEE Japan Council WIE Affinity Group (JC WIE) and started my volunteer activities with IEEE. The newly established JC WIE AG in 2005 was still in its early days, and we’d still explored ways to contribute to the career development of female engineers in Japan. As a committee member of the JC WIE, Prof. Nishihara consistently attended our meetings.
Until then, I had only encountered male superiors who claimed to “support women” but had no visible practical actions. However, Professor Nishihara was the type of senior male I had yet to learn before, expressing constructive opinions in WIE, giving his talk at events, and even helping with event organization. Therefore, meeting a male superior like him was a surprise for me. Later, I was even more amazed to learn that he had founded JC WIE AG.
In 2010, as I was about to complete my third year as JC WIE volunteer, I received an unexpected proposal from Prof. Nishihara to take on the IEEE R10 WIE Coordinator role. Only then were my activities limited to Japan. I was not fully aware that IEEE has 10 Regions, with R10 covering the Asia-Pacific region, and that there are organizations overseeing activities for students and young engineers, not just WIE. At that time, R10 WIE boasted over 6,000 members (now over 20,000), an overwhelming scale and diversity compared to my activities in Japan. I was afraid that I would be unable to do it.
However, Prof. Nishihara sensed my hesitation and encouraged me to “take on the challenge.” He pushed me forward when I was anxious and unsure of everything. Thus, my journey as an IEEE global volunteer began. Since starting my activities as R10 WIE Coordinator, I have encountered many obstacles and often regretted taking on such a significant role. But each time, Professor Nishihara encouraged me and valued my activities. I am nothing but grateful.
Looking back, I am surprised that Prof. Nishihara reached out to me, who needed more experience and could have improved at English, and I am impressed by his patience in waiting for my results.
This was the same for Prof. Lawrence Wong, the R10 Director at that time, and other ExCom Members and IEEE friends then. They must have had concerns about my activities, and of course, helped me often when needed. I was fully engaged in progressing my activities, but I made many friends all over the world and gained confidence in the process. When Prof. Nishihara became the R10 Director in 2019, I had the opportunity to serve as Secretary and learn his outstanding skills and volunteer spirit right by his side. I am deeply grateful for that opportunity.
Of course, Professor Nishihara provides various opportunities to not only me but also other female engineers. As a nominator for female engineers worldwide, he has significantly contributed to their elevation to senior members and recommended many women to ExCom.
Prof. Nishihara is a person who truly gives opportunities to women and cultivates their growth. He shows the importance such as – confronting hesitant feelings, accepting initial failures, demonstrating the importance of learning from them and promoting expanding the scope of activities.
His attitude embodies the essence of being an educator and senior volunteer. I continue my volunteer activities with IEEE, aspiring to become like him. Delivering results is essential, but so is giving opportunities and nurturing people. I am confident that the leader who can achieve both is Prof. Nishihara. Lastly, I’d like to mention that IEEE WIE HQ awarded him an Extraordinary Man in 2022 in the IEEE WIE’s 25th Anniversary Celebration to recognize his outstanding contributions to female engineers.