Diversity opens up new directions and solutions
Chisato Yamashita, who is developing an algorithm that measures an individual’s level of drowsiness, has been working hard on her day-to-day tasks while occasionally agonizing over and struggling with various challenges with an eye toward the day her research findings will finally be commercialized. As someone who always strives to deliver the best possible results in a given environment, Yamashita’s strength lies in her ability to transform negativity into positivity, as well as her unwavering determination to inch closer toward her goals in a steady and faithful way, even if it takes time. Instead of thinking in terms of whether something is “good enough” for her, she prefers to focus on how systems and the work environment should be set up so that each and every employee is able to fully demonstrate their capabilities at the right moment.
Harnessing her background in mathematics to conduct research that supports manufacturing
—— Why did you choose to work at Panasonic in the first place?
When I was a college student in the Department of Mathematics, I had created formulas to calculate the errors that arise when making approximations with calculus. A professor in my laboratory at the time was engaged in joint research on cardiac catheters for a medical device manufacturer, so I witnessed firsthand how mathematics could be useful for the work of manufacturers. Since junior high school, I have always wanted to work in a job where I can impact the lives of people. I thought I might be able to do just that in a company like Panasonic, and I was excited by the prospect of working globally from my hometown of Osaka. Since I have a background in mathematics, I was hoping to have the opportunity to support manufacturing work as a researcher instead of a developer.
—— What kind of work do you currently do at the Integrated Control System Development Center of the Development Division?
I am developing an algorithm to estimate a driver’s level of drowsiness using facial information obtained from images taken by a camera. I find this extremely fulfilling in the sense that I am working on an in-vehicle system in a manner that has social significance. I spend my time working with numbers, program codes, and graphs, but each time I come across a news story about an accident that had occurred as a result of the driver falling asleep at the wheel, an elderly driver stepping on the brakes by accident, or other health-related reasons, I am reminded of the importance of the work I am involved in. In order to learn more about drowsiness, I even took on the challenge of becoming a qualified “drowsiness assessor,” even though there is no official accreditation for that. The journey to become qualified was a huge challenge, as I had to learn how to evaluate the subject’s level of drowsiness based on their facial expression.
The joy of working in an environment where employees are encouraged to take on new challenges
—— What does “work” mean to you?
Work is something that I hope would broaden my horizons and make my life more fulfilling. I still face many challenges in my work, so I am not there yet. Hopefully, in another 10 or 20 years, I can look back and tell myself that all the challenges I have gone through were worth it. I have been transferred several times since joining the company, and there are countless times when I have wondered if I am really an integral part of the company or whether I am actually suited for this job.
However, if I had just given up, it would have been the end. I told myself that it would not be too late to make up my mind after I have done everything I want to, achieved my goal of commercializing the product or producing some form of tangible result, and become someone that will be missed. It is very reassuring to have a superior whom I can approach at any time to discuss what I should do to achieve that goal.
—— There are very few women at your workplace. Have you ever felt that it is difficult to work there?
I have never felt that it is difficult to work at my current workplace just because I am a woman. I am very grateful to my superior, who assigns work to everyone based on a careful evaluation of their individual abilities without using gender as a criterion. I find it a joy to work in an environment where employees are encouraged to take on various challenges. Compared to when I first joined the company, I feel that the company has made significant progress in reforming its various systems to create an environment that is conducive for employees to pursue their respective goals regardless of their gender. I remember feeling like I was almost at my physical limit in my second year at the company, but I am now able to work flexibly in terms of my working hours and work location. There is probably no longer any reason for employees to leave the company because the work style is too demanding.
—— There is indeed a trend towards accepting more diverse work styles and valuing the quality of output rather than the number of hours worked.
By actively communicating such issues to the workforce, the management team has gradually developed a culture that values not only different work styles but diversity in general. I believe that diversity opens up new directions and solutions. I think it is also important to offer employees leadership experience from a young age regardless of their gender and consciously allocate work in a manner that would allow the option of promotion to arise naturally.
Greater commitment to efforts aimed at creating an employee-friendly workplace
—— I’ve heard that there are other kinds of work you are interested in besides what you are currently doing.
Yes, I am interested in HR development and organizational development. I have been transferred several times after joining the company, and I have encountered many challenges when performing tasks and assignments that are very different from what I had specialized in as a student. I’ve also had to battle a serious illness in my private life. I hope to draw on these experiences to create an organization that is easier for new employees to work in and an environment where they can play more active roles. Although I cannot make suggestions that are tailored to each person’s circumstances as that is outside of my current job scope, I often look at the workplace holistically and suggest concrete initiatives to my superior in response to what I think is lacking in the organization.
—— It is wonderful that instead of waiting for others to implement changes, you have taken the initiative to think about what can be done for the organization and take concrete action. Personally, how do you hope to change moving forward?
Since Panasonic Automotive Systems does not have many employees who are equipped to handle data analysis, I would like to improve my data analysis skills by harnessing my background in mathematics and get involved in multiple projects as well as product development.
—— But at this moment, is commercialization still your main goal?
That’s right. Ultimately, my aim is to create a product that has social significance, such as a product that can save someone’s life. The number of people suffering from mental illness has risen in recent times because of the COVID-19 pandemic, so besides saving people’s lives, it would also be great to create products that can offer psychological support. I will do my best to continue pursuing the dream I’ve had since junior high school.