Tokyo: Yuna Kato, a third-year Japanese student at a prestigious engineering university in Japan, aspires to pursue a research career, but worries that having children could limit its duration.
Kato shared that her relatives tried to dissuade her from pursuing science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), suggesting that women in these fields are too engrossed in work to balance relationships or family life. which makes them difficult to find. spouse.
“My grandmother and mother often tell me that there are non-STEM jobs out there if I want to raise children,” she said.
Despite social pressures, the young woman persevered in her engineering journey, but widespread social stigma has forced many aspiring women engineers to seek alternative avenues, a significant challenge for the country of 125.7 million. Japan is projected to have a shortage of 790,000 workers in the IT sector alone by 2030, mainly due to the low representation of women.
Experts warn that the result is a decline in innovation, productivity and competitiveness for a country that built on these strengths during the last century to become the world’s third-largest economy.
“It is very wasteful and a loss for the country,” said Yinuo Li, a Chinese teacher with a PhD in molecular biology. whose likeness has been used for the Barbie doll as a female role model in STEM.
“If you don’t have gender balance, you will have a significant blind spot and shortcomings in your technology,” said the mother of three, who is in Japan on a cultural exchange program.
Japan ranks last among wealthy countries, with only 16% of female university students majoring in engineering, manufacturing and construction, and only one in seven women scientists. According to the OECD, Japanese girls rank second in the world in math and third in science.
Japan’s ranking in overall gender equality has dropped to a record low this year. The country is on a mission to bridge this gap.
For the academic year starting in 2024, about a dozen universities – including Kato’s Tokyo Institute of Technology – will heed the government’s call to introduce quotas for female STEM students, joining several other universities that started this year Will join.
It is a major reversal for a country where an investigation in 2018 found that Tokyo Medical School deliberately lowered women’s entrance exam scores in favor of admitting men. School officials felt that women would be more likely to leave work after having children and that their education would be ruined.
Aiming to change attitudes, Sarkar created a 9-1/2-minute video a few months ago to show to teachers and other adults showing how “subliminal bias” keeps girls from pursuing STEM studies.
In one scenario, an actor playing a school teacher compliments a student for being “good at math, even though you’re a girl”, making her realize that it is unusual to have a female math expert. In another, a mother discourages her daughter from pursuing engineering because “the field is male dominated”.
Working with the private sector, the government’s gender equality bureau will organize more than 100 STEM workshops and events this summer primarily targeting female students – such as learning from Mazda’s sports car engineers.
no variety, no innovation
More schools and companies, including Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Toyota, are offering scholarships to female STEM students in a bid to attract talent.
“The lack of female engineers is absolutely unnatural when you consider that women make up half of society,” said Minoru Taniura, Mitsubishi Heavy’s human resources officer.
“If the composition of engineers is not the same as the population, we will fall behind in being able to provide customers with what they are looking for.”
Panasonic also sees benefits from a female perspective, saying that its senior engineer Kyoko Iida can relate to the women she surveyed for the development of the company’s bread machine, whose users were mostly women.
Jun-ichi Imura, deputy head of the Kato school, said the lack of diversity is already having an effect.
“Diversity is the source of innovation, and when we think about whether we’ve seen true innovation in our school or in Japan over the past few decades, it doesn’t sound good,” he said.
“Looking to 2050, we all need to think about what needs to be done now.”