One silver lining in this pandemic has been the growth of interactions in online forums. Now, people from all walks of life have the opportunity to grow from new perspectives they find online. The artful moderation and maintenance of an online space make all the difference. During the COVID-19 pandemic, I had some chances to moderate and improve cross-cultural understanding through dialogue.
George Floyd’s murder in the US led to global awareness of America’s ongoing racial injustices and set the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement in front of many new eyes. I volunteered as a moderator on the local BLM Facebook page in Tokyo. There are few psychologically safe forums to discuss race and disparate treatment within Japan. While moderating the discussion, I wanted to provide a safe environment for dialogue and a place to search for lasting solutions.
With this hope, I developed a discussion group that met online to discuss activism, intersectionality, and progressive ideas to advance society. By sharing difficult life experiences, we modeled safe spaces where vulnerability is welcomed. Participating in this “service above self” gave me new insights into social justice movements. In addition, this group of activists, teachers, and community leaders inspired me to share my ideas with a broader audience. As a result, I have now publicly shared conflict management tools developed from that group and continue to foster dialogues in other public arenas.
Last year as a Board member for the nonprofit FEW (For the Empowerment of Women- Japan), I had another opportunity to advance diversity and inclusion. As the lead program director for FEW, I was charged with recruiting speakers for our Career Strategies Seminar (CSS), a biannual women’s leadership conference. When a group of speakers fell through at the last minute, I had the opportunity to dial up our conversation on diversity. Due to the online nature of the 2020 seminar, I was able to bring together minority voices from across the globe. As a result, for the first time in our 40-year history, FEW’s CSS event had a black Olympian from the UK, a black American entrepreneur in Qatar, and a mixed-race speaker discussing ‘hafu’ identity in Japan. I even took the opportunity to be a panelist and shared advice from my non-linear career path.
I saw how vital leadership training could be through these two related yet different opportunities. As a professional woman, I had to know when to speak up, when to step forward, and also when to lean in and listen. From my service, I began to see the problems of diversity without inclusion in public forums. It takes a conscious effort to encourage some voices. I now carry this lesson with my professional work. When I took the chance to serve, I also connected and empowered others. It is my hope that other individuals step into service in this way.