What is your personal story?
I am diverse and fortunate. I was raised in economically and racially diverse neighborhoods of Los Angeles. My parents were Nisei - 2nd generation Japanese Americans, both born and raised in Los Angeles, both graduating from UCLA with degrees in accounting. Unfortunately, they were "relocated" shortly after graduating to the Poston Internment Camp in Arizona. After World War II ended and after my Dad served in the U.S. Army, my parents were finally able to move back to Los Angeles where the only job my Dad could get was working in a fruit stand. Yes, discrimination was alive and evident. Tough times. My parents could not make ends meet and it was my Mom who told my Dad, "Akira, we cannot live like this. We will start our own public accounting firm." And so with fear, but a resolve to work hard and long hours together, my introvert Dad knocked on doors with my Mom and started Izumo and Izumo Public Accountants, the business that provided for a middle class life for their family of three kids.
What has shaped your inclusive outlook for your whole career?
Despite these challenges, my parents were positive people who loved being Americans. My Mom was instrumental in shaping how I view, treat, and support women and all people, having a blind eye to gender, race, color, or creed and willing to live boldly outside the lane lines of societal expectations. Why do I say this? For example, my Mom went to UCLA, graduated with a degree in accounting, received a varsity letter (in swimming) when it was unusual for women to go to college, and if women did at that time, most women majored in education or nursing.
It was this open-mindedness and not seeing or allowing societal conventions, such as closed doors or glass ceilings, that my Mom instilled in me. This open inclusiveness was formative in helping me to work effectively with women desirous of fulfilling their potential.
How did you develop as an advocate for women?
I am flattered to be called an advocate. I am fortunate to have had a number of women in my life who have helped me evolve and hopefully to be a better person. So many lessons like listening more with my heart and not just my ears, to see the best, the potential in all, with our uniqueness and differences so we can achieve collective and individual potential. (Clearly, one size does not fit all.) To strive to create a safe environment (a level playing field, no judgement, no entitlement) for heartfelt and honest conversation.
I have always been drawn to women of strength, integrity, intelligence, and a desire to make our world better. I suspect this is the influence of my Mom. My wife Susan, who died from cancer, was the next most important woman in my life who helped me grow, for example, in recognizing the importance of service to others, listening deeply, having the courage to take an unpopular stand, and embracing inclusivity. My kids, Elizabeth and Matthew, have taught me so much as they have faced the realities of our world. My girlfriend and partner, Julie, who every day helps me assess if I am helping others making their day better, in our daily encounters as well as purposeful actions. I stand on their shoulders and many more.
What would you like to say to young men who are just entering the world of work?
Success in the workplace is about collective, "team", and not individual, "me", performance. Equal opportunity and treating people fairly are not just words. We need to translate these critical values into everyday behaviors. On an ongoing basis, it is healthy to assess our potential biases and stereotypes as well as how we use or don't use power with women and all others. More than this, we must strive to enhance our awareness of what can we DO to make things better, particularly where the playing field is not level, and take action to make things better.
What is your greatest pride as an advocate and an ally of women that you would like to share with the next generation of inclusive leaders?
I feel fortunate that I have had the opportunity to open doors for women on their journey of life, to coach and encourage a woman for a promotion, to have listened honestly with a woman so she could make a constructive life decision when she felt like a whirlwind surrounded her. To have been a friend to a woman, who boldly challenges realities, that teaches the rest of us and makes our world better. These things have given me joy and pride.
These are the same things that can unite us through difficulty as we are all together in fighting the global coronavirus. In the same way that my Dad went from the internment camps, to fruit stand operator to business, I know we can rise up to this formidable challenge. And we will, men and women supporting each other at all levels of contribution.