Translating language and culture: one member’s efforts to spread diversity at Mercari

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There are people with very diverse backgrounds gathered at Mercari. For us, Diversity & Inclusion is not a special initiative, but a philosophy that dwells in our everyday business. We interviewed one of the members who have been thinking about and putting into practice how we can make a more energetic and comfortable workplace for everyone.

Maya Tanaka is a member of the Global Operations Team who has experience living long-term in both Japan and the US. She works to translate language and culture daily. Behind Maya’s words, we found the key to enjoying work in a global company.

The attitude everyone has towards trying to understand each other’s languages, opinions, and points of view is a great example of what Mercari is like

– First, can you explain why you decided to join Mercari?

Maya: Before I joined Mercari, I was living in Thailand. Once I knew I would be moving back to Japan, I started looking at many different companies, but I could only work certain hours, and I couldn’t really find any positions that fit my needs. Then, a friend of mine introduced Mercari to me and told me about the Global Operations Team (GOT). I met with Shunsuke Karasawa (VP of People & Culture), and he told me that Mercari has flexible work hours and that there are a lot of working mothers at the company, so I wouldn’t have to worry about anything. After that, the decision went really quickly, and I started working here about three weeks later.

Maya Tanaka(Global Operations Team)

– What does GOT do?

Maya: Our main work is translating and interpreting for internal meetings. Many people see us as support for members who can’t speak Japanese or members who can’t speak English, but our real goal is to be a bridge between cultures. We don’t just translate the words; we find the cultural differences behind those words and provide ways to support Mercari and its diverse employees. For me, I was born in Japan and lived here until I was 10, then lived in the US until I was 22. When I was 22, I moved back to Japan, but I’ve spent time living in Thailand too. Because of this, I understand the culture and customs of both Japan and the west. Even if you’re speaking the same language, there are still a lot of things that don’t get across if you don’t have the same cultural understanding. That’s why we need to translate the culture, too. Recently, we’ve reached the point where about half of the meetings are held in Japanese and half are in English. We have Japanese people taking meeting minutes in English, and English speakers speaking in Japanese… I think the attitude everyone has towards trying to understand each other’s languages, opinions, and points of view is a great example of what Mercari is like.

– Is there anything you’re particularly careful about in your work?

Maya: I try to always remain neutral. I listen to both sides and convey what they’re saying in the most neutral way possible. When they inevitably disagree over something, I understand what both sides are trying to say, so as someone in the middle, I try to think of what I can do to help them understand. In interpreting, people say that interpreters need to shut themselves off and just relay what they hear, but I actively participate in meetings. I’ll tell someone, “She’s trying to say this.” Sometimes, being a third party in the conversation actually helps the discussion go more smoothly. When I’m in meetings with my own team and we disagree, I tend to get frustrated, so maybe we could use someone like GOT too. (laughs)

We don’t just support them in their work, we also give advice on things like housing contracts

– When do you feel happy about the work you do?

Maya: There are a lot of things I enjoy. When I sit in on a difficult meeting, I can feel the importance of what I do. I’m also happy to talk to people from different teams and different countries. It’s really exciting hearing stories from members coming from countries I don’t know much about, like Colombia or Lebanon. GOT interprets in all sorts of meetings, like design, engineering, and management, so it’s full of opportunities to see the skills of members who have experience in different fields. Of course, I do a lot of studying before interpreting in a new field. I’ve been working with the iOS engineering team for a long time, so I’ve learned a lot about programming languages.

– It sounds like GOT might know more about Mercari than anyone.

Maya: We know everything! (laughs) From what happens in the office to the decisions made by the executives. That’s why I make sure to voice my opinions on things like the evaluation system and the work styles here.

– The “GOT Mentorship Program” GOT provides was created thinking about the work styles of members from overseas, right?

Maya: That’s right. In the GOT Mentorship Program, when a non-Japanese speaker joins the company, they’re assigned a mentor from GOT in addition to their usual mentor within their team. The mentor tells them what GOT can do for them, and helps provide psychological support by being a person the new member can talk to at any time if they have problems. We meet with them face-to-face within two weeks of the new member joining, and have a casual chat while giving advice to help them fit in to the company.

– I would imagine people living in Japan for the first time would have a lot of struggles with their lives outside of the office, too.

Maya: They do. We don’t just support them in their work, we also give advice on things like housing contracts, and help decipher mail that they get but can’t understand. Another example is the trial period system common in Japan. It’s rare in other countries, so it’s common for new members to think, “Does this mean I’ll be fired if I don’t perform really well in my first three months?” We explain what this really means and help them relax. (laughs) We invite members to come over to GOT’s desks at any time where the whole team can support them.

Not judging people based on identifying characteristics, and instead just treating each other as individuals

– I’ve heard GOT also offers a workshop for members coming from overseas to try using the Mercari app for the first time.

Maya: This is something GOT members started as a volunteer project. We work with CS (Customer Service) to help new members experience buying and selling items on Mercari. Participants break up into pairs, where they both list items and then buy each other’s items. After that, they go to a convenience store to ship the items out, and the items are actually shipped to their houses. By experiencing these steps, they can understand the service that they’re working on.

– You seem to embody D&I in your work. What kind of attitude and behavior do you think we should be aiming for when working as members of a global organization?

Maya: First, we all need to deepen our understanding of different cultures. I think eventually, the company shouldn’t need our support anymore. To deepen your understanding, it’s important to talk to people from all different countries. Be curious about other cultures in your actions and communication. On top of that, I think it would be ideal if we didn’t judge people based on their nationality or any other identifying characteristics like that, and instead just treated each other as individuals.

– What would you like to see happen at Mercari in the future?

Maya: There are still some barriers between members from overseas and members from Japan. There will always be some differences with language and nationality, but I want everyone to feel a sense of unity as Mercari employees. To do so, I want to make systems to help improve the issues we face in our work. GOT takes part in all sorts of meetings and works with many different teams. I think we should pay attention to the issues we see and create systems to solve them. I want to make our work accessible to everyone rather than being overly dependent on individuals.

– This sounds really reassuring for members joining from overseas in the future.

Maya: I want to tell everyone that GOT acts as a bridge to help. We’re not just here to support members coming from overseas, but to help everyone. Mercari has many people who are willing to meet in the middle. I want to work together with the rest of my team to support the company and help that culture grow.

Maya Tanaka

Born in Hokkaido. Attended elementary school in Japan before moving to the US. Lived in Minnesota from the age of 10, and after graduating from university in 2004, worked in Sendai City as a Coordinator for International Relations, where she handled translation, interpretation, and planning of international exchange events. In 2008, she began work as a relocation consultant at a company supporting people transferred to Tokyo from overseas. Starting in 2011, she worked for four years at LIFULL Co., Ltd. as an executive assistant to the CEO and a member of the international operations division, and in 2015, moved to Bangkok where her husband was transferred. There, she worked as a volunteer in PR for a local NPO. In 2017, she returned to Japan, and joined Mercari. She is a member of Merpay’s Global Operations Team, which handles translation and interpretation.

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