How discrimination drove this young entrepreneur to her success
Pete and I had the pleasure of chatting with Yumi Alyssa Kimura on our podcast recently. Yumi shared her incredible story, including the the many trials and tribulations she endured as an ambitious young female in the male-dominated corporate world of Japan and her inspiring journey into entrepreneurship in America.
Growing up in both China and Japan as the offspring of Asian and Russian parents, Yumi was regarded as a minority in her own country. It is an experience she describes as both good and bad at the same time. Sadly, she received no support from her family when she expressed her interest in higher education, instead she was told that because of her beauty she only had the choice of going into entertainment, as that is what pretty girls do. Her mom even encouraged this thinking and wanted Yumi to become a model, get married to a wealthy man and live the life of a housewife. But Yumi had other plans, she started asking the patrons of a bar where she worked as a singer to help her with donations for her education. She eventually had enough to purchase an airplane ticket to Japan to continue her studies.
A slight change of plans
Yumi’s first entrepreneurial endeavor started when she boarded a plane to Shanghai instead of Japan and launched her first businesses; a Modeling Agency and a translation agency. As a bilingual speaker of both Japanese and Chinese, she had a unique skill set and was able to capitalize on that and create entrepreneurial success, proving to her parents that could succeed, even without a college education and that her parents and the world were judging her wrongly. While building her two businesses, she also learned about real estate. Soon after she sold a house for four million dollars at the age of twenty! This, made her dream of going back to Japan possible where she went to the equivalent of an Ivy league university and obtained a law degree. Very Impressive!
She then started her career an M&A consultant and later on became corporate recruiter in Japan, but her dream of settling and working in Japan turned into a nightmare, as she was constantly blocked by her managers and faced incredible gender and age discrimination. Regardless of her work or results she produced, she could not get ahead or promoted, the company culture was such that women were considered of less value than their male counterparts. Yumi eventually quit in disgust and started her own her advisory company for venture capitalists, taking the COO from the M&A company with her as her partner in the new business.
During meetings, Yumi continued to face discrimination with people assuming that her new business partner was either her boss, lover, husband or father. At the same time, she also began to notice that he would often side with her critics. When expressing her frustration, she was told the only way to be taken seriously as a Japanese business woman, was to build her career in America, so she decided to come to the US.
Here, she immediately noticed the vast opportunities available to women and started working for an American Chinese company called Meitu as a Senior Manager to help recruit the Country Manager of Japan. Eventually, the company moved her back to Japan, to be the Country Manager a decision she dreaded. Again she faced harsh circumstances, had to work twice as hard to gain respect from her managers, all while working hard and achieving all of the KPIs. She proved herself, but still could not receive a raise in her salary with her manager citing that it would be a sin to give her the same amount of money her male counterparts received because of her age and lack of experience.
After facing the same discriminatory practices over and over again, she left and decided to start her own company, that could address this issue for others - Lead Tech (Lead for Career), an AI embedded platform that helps companies with employee retention. There are three modules, the first one, people can find mentors and sponsors based on their projects. The other modules also focus on diversity and create data sets for companies to pinpoint the problems employees are having to prevent employees from leaving if they are at risk. Frustrated employees can easily find an experienced mentor who can help them solve actual problems. To achieve this, the system uses social media to measure data and employee behavior data gathered from internal communications. This system also provides company blind spot reports to help them to improve their culture and anti-harassment/ bias training results.
These days, Yumi is gearing up for the launch of the platform. She wants companies and individuals to sign up and experience the many possibilities the Lead for Career platform offers. Anyone interested in signing up can go to this form.
This was a super fun conversation with Yumi Alyssa Kimura, who is a true go-getter and great example for young women. If you're interested in learning more about Yumi, you can at her on twitter @Alyssa_ymk. Have a listen and enjoy this inspiring conversation.