What happens when you speak up about gender inequity in Japan’s science culture? Why, you can expect to be accused of “tarnishing the reputation” of the university, that’s what. That’s what happened to biophysicist Mitiko Go when she spoke out about an instance of egregious sex discrimination. One Woman Is Not Enough, an editorial just published in Nature, recounts the tale. It’s no wonder Go had to be essentially at retirement before she felt she could risk speaking up. Instead of retiring, however, she’s now president of a university and a member of the Council for Science and Technology Policy. She’s in a position to push for serious change.
Women make up only 12.4% of scientists in Japan, and the editorial notes:
Japan needs its women like never before. There are fewer students than available university seats and a trend away from mathematics and science among students. The society is greying, and there remains an unwillingness to open the borders to foreigners on a large scale.
There is government support in the form of money for programs to encourage young girls to enter science, but all the encouragement in the world isn’t going to help if the culture of science remains untouched. That’s why Go’s actions as university president are so critical:
As part of her model programme, Go encourages all researchers at Ochanomizu to work 9 to 5. To do so, she has changed rules and faculty meeting schedules. This is by no means a revolution. But it may be a step in undoing a culture that has handicapped Japan by keeping roughly half its creativity under wraps. Too bad it can’t happen faster.
Notice the key bit of leadership here: she has changed rules and schedules. It’s not just rhetoric about diversity being good and we need more women in the workforce to stay competitive, blah blah. She’s taken specific actions to disrupt the prevalent culture that excludes women. Real institutional change requires just that: changing policies and procedures, not just figuring out how to shovel more women into a hostile system and help them cope.
It may be a small step forward but it’s a significant one. Three cheers for Mitiko Go!!!!
Hat tip to reader Beth Montelone on this story.