It’s not you, it’s the system: Toxic workplace cultures with Yumiko Kadota and Rasi Gupta

11 May 2021

Rae Knopik

Rae is the Events and Marketing Officer at YWCA Canberra

Photo shows an audience (from behind) listening to Yumiko Kadota speak at the She Leads In Conversation

Yumiko Kadota speaking at the 2021 She Leads In-Conversation event

She Leads In-Conversation events connect Canberrans with inspiring and diverse leaders, sharing their leadership journey, insights and advice for emerging leaders.   

Facilitated by Rasi Gupta, the May She Leads InConversation featured Yumiko Kadotaa medical doctor from Sydney, who recently released her memoir Emotional FemaleThe new memoir detailgripping anecdotes about Yumiko’s journey as an Asian-Australian woman working towards her dream of becoming a plastic surgeon in the Australian medical system, which eventually led to her resignation after months of burnout. 

Job burnout is a serious phenomenon that is not exclusive to the medical field. Job burnout can affect anyone at any level of a career, but 2018 study from a Montreal University suggests that women are more vulnerable to burnout than men. Why? Because as women, we face more barriers to securing flexible, meaningful, and supportive jobs. Once we do secure a job, we face further obstacles that are closely linked to burnout: work-life imbalancelack of control, and dysfunctional workplace dynamics; the latter two are often the result of women having less authority than men, which can lead to frustration and diminished wellbeing.  

Burnout, Yumiko told Rasiis a failure of the system, not the person experiencing the burnout. It is the result of a system that has failed to provide these flexible, meaningful, and supportive jobs to an employee; burnout is not typically the result of the employee being unequipped to handle the demands of the job. Burnout is also not characterised by age or experience level. Rather, it’s the failure of a workplace or career ecosystem to care for its employees.  

Yumiko recalled that in the medical field, there’s only one training provider for any given pathway, so you can’t stuff it up. There’s only one training provider that can make your dream happen, so there’s huge pressure. You can’t make any mistakes. The people you’re working with [during your training] are the ones who are directly influencing your future.”  

secondary problem with these failing systems is that early-career women who are experiencing burnout often do not have the knowledge to stand up to the system that is failing them. When Yumiko entered the profession, she “knew it would be a long road ahead, but [she] was willing to put in those hard hours.” Perhaps blinded by the narrative of status quo, Yumiko, like many women in the first years of their careers, may not realise when a workplace goes from challenging to fostering an inevitable path to burnout. 

However, Yumiko reflected that hopefully, this blindness too is changing. “When we were in medical school, we didn’t have people like Brittany Higgins standing up and putting names to the injustices,” said Yumiko. “[At the time] I could see things and feel in my gut ‘that’s not quite right’ but I couldn’t identify them for what they were.” Without the tools to identify injustice, how are we ever to change the systems that perpetuate the injustice? For Yumiko, without the vocabulary to put definitions to bad behaviour, she was trapped in a cycle of what she called surviorism: the notion that a superior survived the toxic environment and climbed the career ladder, so early-career women can (and should) put up with the abuse too — it’s the idea of If I can do it, anyone can. Yumiko is flipping the switch and sharing her story to improve the status of the lives of the women who come after them. 

As women continue to step forward and share their storiesall of us will continue to learn about the experiences of others, grow our vocabulariesand find our support networks.  This is the power of our She Leads InConversations, and the power of women sharing their lived experience more generally: when we share our experiences with others, we validate each other’s stories and give each other the strength to push back against the systems that fail us. 


Thanks to our partners, Kambri at ANU and HESTA, without whom we wouldn’t have been able to hold such an inspiring and thought-provoking event.   

YWCA Canberra is an Employer of Choice for Gender Equality, and as of this writing, the only one in the ACT. YWCA Canberra takes pride in nurturing a workplace grounded in gender equality, while focussing on getting the best out of our employees, while protecting their work-life balance. 


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