A Time For Inspiration and Gratitude
Julia Wada has, in her own words, “always been a learner.” As the Vice-President of Strategy, Innovation & Transformation at Toyota Financial Services (TFS), she is the inspiring leader who has made the kinds of contributions and achievements celebrated during Women’s History Month each March. “I would tell young women just starting out to be on a journey of self-discovery. Learn what you are good at and find fulfillment in that.” That advice from Wada wasn’t pulled from a pretty pin on Pinterest. It comes from a full career of practicing what she preaches.
Wada began her career with Toyota Motor Sales (TMS) in 1991 as part of the Graduate Management Associate program. Looking back on her career she has had many achievements. One that stuck out was her promotion to Vice-President of HR with no background in HR, a position she held for 15 years. “Our CEO understood the importance of culture and having a strong connection,” said Wada. “We spend so much time at work it’s important to have a healthy company that is creative and innovative.” It was a priority for Wada to support diversity and inclusion while in that role which perfectly aligns with this year’s Women’s History Month theme, “Women Providing Healing, Promoting Hope.”
Another important but difficult project Wada worked on was the transition from moving Toyota’s headquarters from California to Plano, Texas. That role not only affected co-workers and employees but their families as well. “That project changed people’s lives. Caring for them during the move showed who we are,” Wada said proudly. “I have found that Toyota likes helping people, they value their employees and encourage their growth. During our relocation that was more evident than ever.”
Wada is proud of the culture at Toyota. A culture that she herself was involved in influencing. “I have been lucky to work with great people and have supportive managers at Toyota,” said Wada. “Having great coaches and mentors helped me find great opportunities.” That influence inspired her to work closely with her own people managers. While developing programs it was also a priority for her to develop talent at the same time.
31 years at Toyota have taught her to think outside the box and find new ways to innovate. Learning how to launch and then grow businesses is always evolving. “Our new business areas are exciting, and they leverage the best of the Toyota way,” she shared. “Kinto, one of our newest areas, was born digital. That’s exciting!”
Wada has seen some big changes with the representation of women from the time she started at Toyota and today. “25 years ago, her boss began attending an executive coffee, which was an in-person event. When she first began attending, there were only 1-2 women executives who attended. Anytime a new woman would join the executive coffee there was a mini celebration! The transformation has been inspiring,” Wada said with excitement! “Today, women have representation at a new level. When you are only one of 1 or 2 women, it can be hard to not feel like you are the only one. A new dynamic occurs where 3 or more women are present.” Stories like these are the reason we celebrate Women’s History Month every year.
In March of 1987, activists lobbied Congress to declare March Women's History Month and were successful. Women’s History Month is a time to celebrate, appreciate and reflect upon both the large and small contributions women have made in our world. Wada added, “I see Women’s History Month as a time to reflect on & celebrate the role and contributions of women to our joint history as humans. It's a time for inspiration and gratitude.”
Wada is proud that it is natural and normal to see women in leadership roles today. “We have more work to do but we have come so far!” And that is a quote all women can pin on their Pinterest board.
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