02 Jun Female boss at construction firm trying to shake up the industry：The Asahi Shimbun
KITA-KYUSHU–Junko Komorita knows only too well the pitfalls that await any woman eager to make a career in the construction industry.
The primary obstacle, she says, is that it is a world dominated by men, who generally don’t give much consideration to a woman’s point of view.
Komorita is in a rather unique position as she runs her own construction company, having learned the business from the ground floor up.
In an effort to change the traditional mind-set, the 53-year-old set up her own school to help women establish themselves in the industry.
“The construction industry has no bright future with just men or just women,” she told the first class of her Kenchiku Kensetsu Jogakko (Women’s architecture and construction school) in April.
The 15 women in the class work at construction and other related companies.
“There are many things women know but men don’t know,” Komorita went on.
That first class, through lectures and group sessions, taught the students how to make full use of their unique viewpoints at workplaces as well as get the message across to supervisors and colleagues.
Komorita, president of home design and building firm Zm’ken Service Co. here, said she set up the school so female managers can explain what it takes to succeed, adding that the industry increasingly will need “women who can nurture women.”
In choosing which college to attend, Komorita told her father, a master carpenter who ran his own building contractor here, that she wanted to study architecture so she could work at construction sites.
Her father was bitterly opposed to her dream, observing that in a male dominated environment like the construction business, “Women will only be allowed to watch the phone or serve tea.”
However, her mother warmed to the idea on grounds that having the skills for a professional career will be important for men and women alike. Komorita was finally enrolled in the architectural department at a junior college.
After graduating from the college, Komorita joined a construction company. Since female workers were not supposed to engage in on-site work, only skirts were provided as a uniform.
Female workers were obliged to serve tea at meetings and clean ashtrays. Komorita left after two years.
At another construction company, Komorita was promoted to the position of foreman to supervise staff at construction sites.
But when she failed to show up for a meeting that none of her colleagues had bothered to tell her to attend, Komorita was ordered to clean temporary toilets at construction sites as a reprimand.
She recalled that all the toilets were for men and she had to go back and forth to dispose of excrement in a bucket.
After passing the exam to become a first-class architect, Komorita joined her family’s building business.
Impressed by the way his daughter worked closely with customers by drawing plans based on their requests, her father said, “What you’re doing seems much more service-oriented than traditional construction. You’re making this business more interesting.”
After the father died in 1999, Komorita took over as president of the company that her mother had established.
Zm’ken Service currently has nine employees, all female except one. Five of them have small children and some work shorter hours.
The company’s sales rose fourfold over five years, earning it Cabinet Office awards in 2013 and 2015 for its efforts to promote equality.
“Construction is a business to develop the environment for a better life,” said Komorita. “I hope the construction industry will make effective use of the potential of women to create comfortable spaces for both men and women of all ages.”