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Round-table discussion: “Balancing Parenting and Research”

Flexible schedules to benefit employees and their families, with work styles that match different stages of life

Approximately 80% of the researchers at DENSO IT Laboratory (hereafter IT Lab) are married. As the number of employees with children grows each year, the company places great importance on creating a work environment that allows people to balance parenting and research. We spoke to three people who continue to produce top-level research results about this environment.

Participants

  • Yoshiaki Sakakura
    Research and Development Group
    Researcher
    Researched numerical optimization in his doctoral course and postdoctoral work. Later took an interest in information processing for manufacturing, and joined IT Lab in 2007. Primarily works in fault diagnosis of industrial machinery, as well as engine fuel injection analysis and household electric power demand forecasting for home energy management system battery control. At home, he is responsible for making breakfast and packing lunch for his two daughters.
  • Ikuro Sato
    Research and Development Group
    Senior Researcher
    Researched theoretical physics in graduate school and at a national laboratory in the US. Joined IT Lab in 2008 to leverage his mathematical background. Works on machine learning and image recognition research for applications in driving assistance systems and autonomous cars. Enjoys building cardboard projects with his son.
  • Hideki Shirai
    Research and Development Group
    Researcher
    Researched image processing in his doctoral course. Joined IT Lab in 2002 to help build the future of automotive technology. Works in research for data processing of extremely high frequency signals to detect preceding vehicles as well as research and technology development for onboard camera applications such as around view. At home, he values conversations with his wife as well as spending time with his son.

Company programs designed with parenting in mind leave time management up to individual discretion

- There are many company programs that help balance parenting and research, such as enabling employees to work from home five days a month, as child-raising assistance for children of elementary school age or younger.

Sato This is really a big help. If my child is taking a day off with a cold or he has to stay home because class is cancelled, I can stay with him without sacrificing my work. I can also work at home for more routine reasons like taking him to and from school, and taking care of him. The company understands that I can make progress on my research even if I’m at home with my child. My wife works too, so this program is a big plus for her as well.

Shirai The work schedule is based on a discretionary work system without core time, so there is a lot of flexibility on an everyday basis. When my wife was pregnant, I was able to drive her to and from her OB-GYN appointments.

Sakakura I take advantage of the discretionary work system to make breakfast and pack lunch for my daughters as soon as I get up in the morning. Then I start working at home around 9 AM, and come in to the office in the afternoon. Splitting household tasks with my wife during the busy morning hours makes life easier, and it gives me time to talk with my children as well.

Caring for family on an everyday basis is the secret to being able to focus on research

- How does this environment help you with your research?

Sato The research section doesn’t have frequent deadlines, but things get busy when there is a large milestone like the submission of a research paper, and all of my time gets focused on that. I feel like taking care of my family on an everyday basis helps in those situations.

Sakakura If I’m stuck on something, it doesn’t really matter what day of the week it is. If I need to focus on a task, I want to be able to concentrate even if it’s the weekend. It’s a day off for my family, but as long as I help out on a regular basis they’re cooperative even if I need to shut myself in my room.

Sato In research work like ours, sitting at your desk at work for longer hours doesn’t necessarily lead to better results. I do different kinds of work at home and in the office, and try to balance my work and family roles. The ability to work from home and the discretionary work system are a big help.

Greater freedom and more choices for working couples and parenting

- What kind of effect do you think this flexible environment has on your family?

Sato Out of everyone in the family, the people with the least flexible schedules are actually the children. Once they’re in elementary school and start going to lessons or practice, it becomes even more noticeable. Especially in our case, since both parents work, schedule conflicts will arise somewhere unless the parents can work in a flexible way. With the work style I have now, I think both of us will be able to keep working.

Sakakura It does definitely mean a greater degree of freedom for the family. My wife is a homemaker. She wants to work later down the road, but she wants to focus on the children and the home while they’re still young. She initially thought she would start working again when the children reached the upper elementary grades. As a result of my flexible work style, though, she is now considering going back to work when they enter elementary school. The company makes it easy for me to work, and it’s great that it helps not only me but my family to reach their full potential.

Shirai In my case, my wife used to work at this company so she knows the programs and the environment. So she takes them for granted and that makes it hard for me to come up with excuses. (laughs)

A company culture that never stops evolving toward an environment that makes it easier to balance family and work

- As the company works to improve its programs even further, what do you see as the characteristics of the organizational culture?

Sato The president and managers often ask what can be done to make it easier to work here. It’s a smaller organization, so system and programs are set up quickly. Also, about 80% of the people in the research section are married, and out of those, about 90% have children. A lot of the children are around the same age, so I feel like we can understand each other’s feelings about parenting.

Sakakura That’s true. There has always been a feeling in the company that you need to have a fulfilling personal life in order to do good work and research. And raising children is considered an important part of that personal life, of course. On top of that, I think the fact that the number of colleagues with children has really grown in the past five years has had an impact as well.

Shirai The telework system has become more robust, and the company is taking better care of us every day. As a result, I think the mood in the office is getting even better, too.

A good environment for female researchers, too

- Finally, based on what you’ve discussed so far, do you have anything to say to people who are considering a new job?

Sato I can wholeheartedly recommend the company not only to men, but to female researchers as well. There is maternity leave, of course, and also a child care leave program for up to a total of three years per child and a temporary part-time work program for up to a total of four years. I hear that many people leave their jobs when their children enter elementary school. I think this company is more understanding than most regarding the balance between family and work. There is always pressure to produce research results, of course, so it’s not an easy job. But quantity isn’t expected of us, so I think it’s a great fit for people who can produce quality work.

Shirai It’s possible to find a balance between parenting and work, or rather between family and work. It’s easy to take paid time off, too. Work hours are left up to each person’s discretion, so I can do things for my wife on a regular basis, like visiting each other’s families often even if they’re a little far away. I think it’s a company that can help strengthen family relationships.

Sakakura Because I’m working in this environment, there’s less emotional stress in the family. I have more opportunities to talk with my wife, and we’re able to discuss what’s going on in our lives more often. About work, future career plans, vision… I think it’s great that we can have constructive discussions about the future rather than complaining.

- It seems like IT Lab has an environment where you can balance research with not just parenting but family and life in general. Thank you very much for your time.

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