‘Toward Diversity’ is shifting prestige to be more gender-inclusive

By Trishit Banerjee
 |  Moe Ishii

“There is a saying that if you go to the University of Tokyo (University of Tokyo) and you can’t get married by early autumn, you can’t get married,” says Hirotsue Okamura, a first-year doctoral student. A student of the Faculty of Engineering, the University of Tokyo. Now a leader in “Towards Diversity,” she is trying to dispel this image and help other female colleagues free from negative prejudices.

Founded in 1877, the University of Tokyo is Japan’s first imperial university and the most elite. However, the issue of gender inequality has been a long-standing problem. Only about 20% of undergraduate students are women, reducing to less than 10% in science and engineering courses. Meanwhile, “Toward Diversity” is a student-led group at the University of Tokyo, where we are conducting research and discussions, and at the same time reaching out to the general public.

Welcome message from the Toward Diversity Board of Directors in the spring of 2021 to the University of Tokyo freshmen

Max, a second-year PhD student in France and the United Kingdom, describes his work “towards diversity.” “We started in 2019 and were funded by the university. It was the second year we enrolled as a student circle and focused on outreach rather than research.” The study focuses on the causes of “pipeline leaks” at the University of Tokyo. This means reducing the number of female students who become full-time professors. Only 16.7% of Japanese national university faculty members are women, and engineering has decreased to 6.2%. 15 th According to a survey by the National Association of Universities, actually the percentage of women among all the teachers are more than 30% was only 4% of the National University. The average ratio rose slightly from 13% in 2011 to 16.7% in 2018, but the change is considered slow and the rate of change has not increased over time.

Increasing the number is not enough

However, focusing on the number of female students and staff is not enough. “The university’s strategy focuses on increasing the number of women through scholarships and rental support, but after entering the university, there are few role models, so it is only possible to actually become a researcher. That’s a handful. That’s why universities encourage young female students to go on to academia, but it’s hard for students to imagine how to do that, “says Okamura.

Put up a poster for the University of Tokyo International Women’s Day

This group has succeeded in celebrating International Women’s Day this year. The university regularly holds lectures and events, but the group felt that there was no real celebration of the day. I made a video to commend women at the University of Tokyo, hoping to raise awareness of the presence of female researchers at the university. Lee Yang, a PhD student at the University of Tokyo in China, introduced one of the group’s other projects, “Her University of Tokyo.” “We interviewed female doctoral students at the University of Tokyo and shared their stories on Instagram (@ ge.at.utokyo) to inspire students outside the University of Tokyo community. “

Need is the mother of invention

All members of the group emphasize their motivation to participate in the Toward Diversity. For Yang, it was surprising to see the difference in confidence levels between Chinese and Japanese female students. She wanted to encourage Japanese students and at the same time dig deeper. Saeko Kawataki, a sophomore in biology and former group leader, took over the reins from a senior who was trying to find out why there are so few women in the STEM field in Japan. Kawataki focused her on the University of Tokyo and continued to do so because the project did not produce the expected results. “I joined the University of Tokyo after a gap year, but I was very worried because there were few female undergraduate students. I had few friends, so I wanted to create a community for women and those who would support this problem. “She says.

Microaggression compounds for identification

Members of the group mention how discrimination is by no means perfect and manifests itself as microaggression. “There is no direct discrimination, but the lab culture is still male-centric. For example, in my friend’s lab, I heard that the most important research discussions are usually held in taverns .A place where women don’t usually go, such as (Japanese-style bar), “says Okamura. “In my case, when I applied for a competitive scholarship, I was told that I was chosen because I was a woman. I feel like a scammer,” says Kawataki. “When I was looking around the lab to choose where I wanted to study, a professor at the School of Medicine told me that I had to choose between life as a happy woman and life as a researcher. He had three children and couldn’t help wondering if he didn’t have to think about it himself, “she adds.

In a society where young people rarely discuss politics, group activities can seem radical to many. “My parents do not support my gender-related activities and want to focus on my research. I can understand their point, but my The female colleagues were very supportive, “says Kawataki. “In my case, my lab members are very open-minded. We sometimes talk about my gender-related activities, and my lab has videos from our Women’s Day event that member. I encouraged me to share it with, “says Max. “In fact, I’ve seen lab members make some changes. I used to use only male pronouns, but now I’m using both” he “and” her “together. I am using it for. That is the beginning of a positive change, “he adds.

The position of the University of Tokyo is unmatched in the imagination of Japanese society. More than half of the judges in Japan’s Supreme Court are graduates, and the university has consistently produced graduates who will be prime ministers, members of parliament, and Nobel laureates. Being a trendsetter, I have to wonder. What took so long to create an environment for gender equality? “Long time is part of the problem. Things have been fixed and have been successful so far, so there is pressure to stay the same,” Max points out. “I met people at a gender equality office, but despite their efforts, success was limited. Perhaps the University of Tokyo is not attractive to female graduates, high school girls themselves Underestimates. Female applicants account for only 20% of the pool.

Gender imbalance among other groups at the University of Tokyo

The situation for international students is a little different. The proportion of women in advanced technology is historically low worldwide. “At my university in the UK, there were no women in the aviation sector, but there were more women than men in the university as a whole,” Max said. However, the gender equality of international students at the University of Tokyo is far superior. “About 45% of the University of Tokyo’s International Masters are women, about 23% of the Japanese. It’s almost double, so if you don’t interact with the Japanese community, you won’t notice the degree of imbalance,” Max said. I will add.

Although the group focuses on the research community, there are gender imbalances across the university. More women are unemployed due to mass dismissals after working for five years under a temporary contract with a revision of the labor law in 2013. Men tend not to apply for such jobs because of their family responsibilities. Among the parents of high school students, especially at the University of Tokyo, there are many who actively discourage their daughters from aiming for higher education. Many students enrolling at the University of Tokyo are preparing for a gap year ( Ronin ). Young girls are being pressured to go this route and instead settle for a “easier” college.

All clouds have a silver lining

Still, I’m looking forward to it. Due to the change in the president of the university and the change in the board of directors in April this year, five of the nine directors have become women. Toward Diversity has also submitted to Cheong Wa Dae a white paper listing recommendations from their research on this issue. Things seem to be moving, albeit slowly. “I want to increase the number of female professors at universities with a good work-life balance,” says Kawataki, who had only one female professor when he entered the university. “I want more student-led initiatives on campus to promote gender equality. If the University of Tokyo can change, it could impact educational institutions across the country,” says Max.

When fame and a conservative approach are faced with the evolving ideas of modern society, it is a young wheel that can slowly and steadily lead to structural changes.


International Women’s Day of the video by the “TowardDiversity” is from here can see you .