Sumitomo Electric Group The Professionals ~Keiko Iwai Plant Manager, Yokohama Lightwave Plant, Lightwave Production Dept, Lightwave Device Div, Sumitomo Electric Device Innovations, Inc.~

Maintaining a forward-looking and positive attitude To maintain a work-family balance and live true to myself

Acquiring a habit of thinking deeply in R&D activities

I majored in physics at university. In the master’s course, I was engaged in basic research on the behavior of magnetic mixed crystals. I was inspired by the laboratory professor’s attitude toward science. It was commitment to thinking deeply. I was able to maintain this attitude in optical communication research, in which I was engaged after joining Sumitomo Electric. In job hunting, I hoped to join a company where no one from the same department worked before. I wanted to find a workplace where my personal capabilities were evaluated impartially, instead of a workplace where I was compared to someone else. In a job seminar, I found Sumitomo Electric attractive because it respected people and provided employees with many opportunities to take on challenges. More importantly, I was attracted by the personality of employees whom I met through job hunting, and this was the main reason that I decided to join Sumitomo Electric.

After joining the company, I was assigned to the Optoelectronics Laboratory to undertake R&D operations on optical communication. This was completely different from my major at university, so I studied optics from scratch to conduct research. I was much impressed by the evaluation of the transmission characteristics of optical devices. We used a mechanism to predict the results based on preliminary data. Quantified parameters were introduced to identify transmission defects at an early stage. I had a sense of accomplishment in contributing to the improvement of product quality. I was also engaged in commercialization of transmission modules for optical communication, which had just begun at that time. I had a very fulfilling life as a researcher.

Balancing parenting and work

When I joined the company, the number of female engineering staff members was small compared to today. The career paths of female employees were not discussed as often as today. I was not the type of person who envisioned the future of her career. I attached importance to taking care of impending issues and taking action properly with fun. I did not have a future vision of my work and life when making choices. For example, I did not necessarily have a strong wish to pursue my career over the long term despite life events specific to women or to produce substantial results in my research career. My code of conduct was to do what I was supposed to do positively and pleasantly. I got married in the third year after joining the company. I gave birth to my first child two years later. I then gave birth to my second child two years later. I delivered my third child three years later. I became a parent of three children in five years. I entered a new phase, balancing work with parenting. I had job satisfaction, so I did not think of retiring at all.

The short working hours program, which was not in place when I gave birth to my first child, had been established by the time I gave birth to my second child. However, it was not easy to balance work with family even after this program became available. I tried to increase the efficiency of my work on a daily basis so that I could respond to calls from the nursery school any time in the event of changes in the physical condition of my children. I also shared information with members to avoid inconveniencing others. During parenting, the time and physical constraints were frustrating, but my personal growth with children benefits me in my current work. Children should grow in society and build relationships with their community and neighbors while their mothers support them with no strings attached. The same applies to relationships with plant members. A supervisor oversees the operations and listens to what they have to say. This allows the members to work independently.

Many products manufactured
Many products manufactured
Many products manufactured

How to motivate members to raise their hands and express their opinions

There was a major turning point in 2010, 18 years after joining the company. I was temporarily transferred to Sumitomo Electric Device Innovations, Inc. I was in charge of the quality control operations. It is worthy of note that I was appointed leader of the working group to reduce quality abnormalities, which aimed to improve quality, as part of the activities to strengthen the operations. This turning point led to my subsequent mission in a management position and my current mission as plant manager. The quality kaizen activities aimed to improve the quality of products produced at the plant. Unlike my research career, I had to directly cope with the production site at the plant. The important first step for quality improvement was to quickly disseminate and share information about the situation when an abnormality or defect occurred. Bottlenecks are inevitable somewhere in the communication process, so it is necessary to create an environment and culture where plant members can communicate by raising their hands and expressing opinions. I started with conversation. There was some backlash, and I had psychological barriers to overcome. I hesitated to take a step forward, wondering: “How will my opinion be accepted? Is it okay to make proposals?” My mission was to clear these hurdles. This remained one of the issues to be tackled after taking the position as section manager and later as plant manager. Thus, I have placed top priority on “talking, listening, and conveying messages” by maintaining communication with the plant members. This produces a sense of security (psychological safety), and I believe that this is one of the important factors to get things going.

As plant manager, I aim to create a strong plant where productivity and quality are maintained at high levels. Whether this can be achieved or not depends on the mindset of each member. If psychological safety where “they can talk about anything and their opinions are not denied” is ensured, all members will be motivated to express their opinions and ideas voluntarily and take action to improve their workplace. As plant manager, I promote daily communication to understand and support them. I still go through trial and error, but I want to encourage young people, both women and men, to clarify their vision. As long as you are positive, you will be able to find answers and overcome hurdles under any circumstances. I am confident that this makes your work and life more creative and enjoyable.


Keiko Iwai

Joined Sumitomo Electric Industries, Ltd.
Optical Functional Parts Div., Optoelectronics Labs. (currently Transmission Devices Labs.)

Semiconductor Optical Device Div., Optoelectronics Labs.

Laser Mass Production Technology Project, Quantum Device Div., Transmission Devices Labs.

Device Analytics and Reliability Group, Optical Communication Device Div., Transmission Devices Labs.
And Optical Process Production Engineering Group, Optical Device Manufacturing Dept., Optical Transmission Device Business Div.

Temporarily transferred to Sumitomo Electric Device Innovations, Inc.
Device Process Engineering Section, Device Production Dept, #1, Lightwave Device Div.

Manager, Lightwave Quality Control Group 1, Yokohama Lightwave Production Dept., Optical Components Business Div., Sumitomo Electric Device Innovations, Inc.

Plant Manager, Yokohama Lightwave Plant, Lightwave Production Dept, Optical Components Business Div., Sumitomo Electric Device Innovations, Inc.

Plant Manager, Yokohama Lightwave Plant, Lightwave Production Dept, Lightwave Device Div, Sumitomo Electric Device Innovations, Inc., and was appointed to current position.

With the plant members
With the plant members

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