An Interview with Meiko Takayama

CEO of Advancing Women Executives

by Eunice Park and Ali Wood

We first met Meiko Takayama when we had the pleasure to hear her speak at our school’s bi-annual feminist conference called Women’s Space. She spoke about the company she started, Advancing Women Executives, and the work she does on a day to day basis. As well as her job, Meiko advised us with tips on how to assert yourself in the workplace or classroom with tools on how to present ideas confidently and empower other female peers. We were inspired by Meiko not only because she embodies a strong, independent women leader, but also because she is an Asian American- an intersection that all three of us share.

Because of her fascinating speech at Women’s Space, Girl Talk reached out to Meiko to interview her more on her job as the founder & CEO of Advancing Women Executives and her advice for young girls navigating their ambitions. We had the privilege to interview her in AWE’s Studio City Office. Below is a summary of our interview.

The moment we walk into AWE’s office, we were enthusiastically greeted by two friendly employees who were excited to speak to us about women’s empowerment and the work of AWE to advocate for it. They encouraged us to keep being involved in activism work, and are inspired by the work of high schoolers who passionately advocate for the causes they care about.

Soon Meiko arrives, and our interview begins.

Ali & Eunice: Hi Meiko, can you tell us a bit about your company AWE?

AWE, or advancing women executives, supports the rise of female leaders in executive positions. Through helping women throughout the process of finding, interviewing for, and being chosen for executive positions, we accelerate the careers of women while improving the global economy. We work with both men and women in different career fields to support the advancement of women. After growing up with inspiring female role models and going to an all girls college at Bryn Mawr, I’ve always been empowered by the women around me- and I want to make sure all opportunities are unlocked for them. In fact, many women are not being considered for executive positions because at the very first step, they do not apply. When a job position asks for a number of traits, compared to men who will apply if they fit the majority of the criteria, women often feel as if they need to 100% embody every trait on the job application.

Ali: With our experience from secondary schools, we were wondering if you have any opinions on whether girls are less inclined to be as vocal and take on leadership roles in the classroom? How would you encourage more girls to gain that confidence in speaking their opinions without fear of rejection?

Meiko: I feel that no girl should ever feel the need to be silent about their opinions and beliefs. However, in order to encourage an environment where more girls feel comfortable taking on leadership roles in the classroom, more girls should support one another. There is such a good “bro culture” amongst boys and men who will support each other throughout every circumstance, but that level of support amongst girls is often missing. Therefore, girls need to “amplify” each other’s voices. They can reference each other girl’s opinions and thoughts in previous statements, and acknowledge good ideas shared amongst them.

We need to also break down gender roles so that we can see leadership in different ways. Rather than only seeing leadership as dominant speaking conversations, leadership should also be seen in the questions of clarification and organization women are more likely to ask than men.   Deborah Tannen at Georgetown actually did a study in which she found that statistically women ask more questions than men do, as society tells boys that they are not allowed to be insecure in their intellectual abilities and often force them to present a facade of confidence.

Eunice: In what ways are companies structuring their work settings and organization to encourage female leaders?

Meiko: I think it’s extremely important for all companies, regardless of the gender composition of such companies, to embrace women’s empowerment and encourage the advancement of women’s careers. The only way for us to affect real change is if we mobilize everyone- men included- behind the movement for women’s empowerment.

One company I find particularly inspiring is Patagonia, which has established creative policies to support the advancement of women in careers. For example, they provide on site daycare facilities until 2nd grade for children of their employees. If a Patagonia employee needs to travel for work and also has a newborn, Patagonia covers the expenses for the infant and a caregiver to travel with the employee. These policies support the rise of female executives through providing an inclusive environment for women to not have to choose between family and work responsibilities.

Other companies like Sephora continue to support their female employees through empowerment training opportunities and networking events. Although more than 75% of Sephora’s employees are women, Sephora has importantly recognized that women’s empowerment is an ongoing initiative companies should pursue.  

Ali: To bring into light intersectional feminist experiences of women of color, with your personal experience as a Japanese women, how did you respond to “cultural flack” when you chose to pursue a more “masculine” career field as a CEO?

Personally for me, I didn’t experience too much of asian cultural flack as I grew up in an upper middle class Chicago suburb, which caused me to identify more as a woman than I identify as being an Asian. However, after I came to Los Angeles, I realized how much diversity existed within our population. Although there are very real and prevalent cultural obstacles that discourage women from more traditionally “masculine” career fields such as business executives, I encourage all women to step outside the lines to pursue their passions as a leader - whether that means founding your own company or leading a startup. My peers have told me that just the way I walk down the street makes me not appear Japanese, as if my confidence as a woman detracts from my Asian heritage. However, women’s empowerment and cultural pride are two different values that can be equally embraced.

Eunice: What advice would you give to young teenage girls? What hope do you see for the next generation of female leaders?

Meiko: My advice I would give to young teenage girls is to always continue raising their hands, support one another unconditionally, and appreciating their own value. This can be manifested in giving out the names of female peers when there are job openings available, or negotiating your first salary out of college.

Although I don’t personally believe enough has changed, I have faith in the this generation of young leaders to be the agents of substantial, lasting change for gender equality. With movements like #metoo shedding a light on important issues of consent and sexual assault, and more women becoming executives and graduating with STEM career fields, I’m hopeful for the future for women everywhere.