In Japan, there is a significant gender gap in academia. But some of the best universities in the country are taking positive steps to tackle this inequality and attract more female academics.
Nagoya University, considered one of the best institutions of its kind in Japan, has for years been at the forefront of efforts to help female researchers avoid having to give up their careers because of pregnancy, parenting and other gender “barriers”. “
It is now taking its long-term commitments to a whole new level by introducing hiring targets and improving childcare services to further narrow the gender gap.
Not only are fewer women than men working in universities in Japan today, but even fewer are in leadership positions. One of the reasons is that young female researchers are often hired on limited-term contracts, which leaves them less time to produce the same results as their male counterparts in obtaining a contract renewal or a position.
In 2009, the university, located in the city of Nagoya, the fourth largest in Japan, became the first in the country to set up an after-school child care center on its campus after academics with youngsters ‘going to primary school complained about the’ first grade barrier ‘.
Parents can send their young children to day nurseries, but schools that cater for primary school children have shorter opening hours, making it difficult for working parents to adjust their schedules. Seventy-seven elementary school students of all ages are currently enrolled in the campus daycare, which operates until 9 p.m.
Women made up around 17.5% of the university’s teaching staff in recent years, but the institution is now expected to increase that ratio to 20% in fiscal year 2021.
It also imposed employment targets for each course and department, as well as economic incentives. Sections that hire more women on a permanent basis than the number of departures will be eligible for larger budgets from the school operator, while departments that do not meet university goals will see their budgets reduced.
Narie Sasaki, associate professor of biology at Nagoya University who helped establish the after-school care center as part of her efforts to keep women working, stressed the importance of these goals to ‘hiring.
“Allocating positions exclusively to women does not give an unfair advantage to women but aims to break down invisible barriers,” she said.
Hiroko Tsukamura, vice president of Nagoya University, said the policy of cutting budgets for sections that did not meet targets was decided after less stringent measures to encourage female employment. and incentive-based efforts have failed to improve the proportion of women.
“Opposition came from some, but we had discussions on several occasions with each division and approved the policy at the directors meeting on all campuses,” she said. “Outstanding academics should be selected regardless of gender. If the right people are chosen for the positions, there should be more women in the research community. “
Gunma University in the northern Kanto region is also taking aggressive steps to narrow the gender gap.
Instead of using one-off budgets for equal rights projects, the university prepares long-term funding not only to help researchers set up their own labs, but also to hire part-time assistants for those who do. have young children. He also sought to hire only female researchers for recent openings in his predominantly male School of Science and Technology.
As a result, the number of female tenured professors increased from four in 2012 to 12 in 2019. The percentage of female doctoral students more than doubled over the same period, from 12% to 26%.
RULES LIFTED FOR PARENTAL LEAVE
Another challenge for the researchers concerns the parental leave system, which leaves a lot to be desired. While young researchers frequently have to renew their contracts to obtain academic positions, many universities implement social agreements or internal rules that prohibit staff from taking parental leave during their first year and during the last year. year and a half of their mandate. .
This makes it impossible for people working on two-year contracts to take parental leave, while three-year temporary agents can only take six months of leave to care for their offspring. These obstacles have made academics think twice about having children.
Although the rules are based on Ministry of Labor guidelines on fixed-term employment, they can be revised if employees and employers come to an agreement.
For example, the Nara Institute of Science and Technology abolished these rules last year to allow its staff to take parental leave whenever they want during their periods of employment.
It only took six months for the institute to revise the rules after the issue was raised by young academics. Under the amended rules, all temporary teachers are now entitled to one year parental leave.
The University of Tokyo removed restrictions on childcare leave for permanent and temporary staff members in 2005. The university also operates six nurseries that accept new children each month. It covers 70 percent of the nursery costs for five years for newly hired professors and associate professors, to promote the employment of women.
Teruo Fujii, who became president of the university in April this year, highlighted his “diversity and inclusion”.
More than half of new university executives are women. They come from various backgrounds, including a private company and an international organization. Women also made up a record 21.1 percent of new students this year.
“The public integration of women in management is of symbolic importance,” said Kaori Hayashi, vice president of the university. “We will make the university a school that people in various positions will want to attend. “
However, the university’s rate of female teachers – including female associate professors and assistants – remains low at 13.7 percent, while about 90 percent of its professors are men.
Hayashi said that men and women in academia compete based on their achievements and hope those chosen are not “just because they are women.”
Reaffirming the importance of helping women in employment, Hayashi said, “The gender gap (at the University of Tokyo) of one woman for nine men is too large to ignore, and it is possible that hidden talents have not yet been discovered. There will be more cases where the most talented person is hired and the person happens to be a woman. “
This article is published as part of “Towards Equality”, an international and collaborative initiative bringing together 15 international media outlets to highlight the challenges and solutions to achieve gender equality. The Asahi Shimbun is participating in this campaign led by Sparknews.