Nagoya University, considered one of the best universities in Japan, has been helping researchers for years so that they do not have to abandon their careers due to pregnancy, family occupations and other factors that they call “gender obstacles.” Now, she says she wants to take her commitments to a whole new level, introducing feminist hiring policies and improving daycare services to further narrow her gender gap.
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There are fewer women than men in Japanese academia, and very few hold senior positions. One reason is that younger researchers tend to have short-term contracts, which gives them less time to obtain the same results as their male counterparts and to apply for contract renewals or internships.
In 2009, the University of Nagoya, Japan’s fourth-largest city, became the first in the country to create an after-school children’s center on its campus, after receiving complaints from academics with school-age children. Parents can take younger children to daycare during the day, but centers for primary school pupils have shorter hours, making it difficult for working parents to optimize their schedules. Currently, 77 primary school students of all ages attend the campus nursery, which is open until 9:00 p.m.
In recent years, women represented around 17.5% of university faculty, but this institution has set out to increase the number of female professors to 20% during the 2021 school year. It has also set employment targets for each course and department , as well as economic incentives. Departments that hire more permanent employees than leave may receive higher grants from the center, while those that do not achieve their goals will see their budgets reduced.
Narie Sasaki, an adjunct professor of biology at Nagoya University, helped found the after-school center as part of her efforts to enable women to continue working and now highlights the importance of these hiring policies. “Assigning jobs exclusively to women is not an unfair advantage, it tries to break down invisible barriers,” he says.
Hiroko Tsukamura, Vice Chancellor of Nagoya University, explains that the decision to cut the budgets of the departments that do not meet the targets was decided after other less stringent incentives and incentives for female employment failed to improve the proportion of women. “Some objected, but we had numerous conversations with each department and we approved this measure at a campus board meeting,” he says. “Exceptional academics must be selected regardless of gender. If the right people are chosen for each position, there should be more women in academia.”
Gunma University in the Kanto region of northern Japan is also taking steps to reduce the gender gap. Now it dedicates long-term funds not only to help researchers create their own laboratories, but also to hire part-time assistants for parents with young children. Furthermore, it aims to have only female researchers for the most recent vacancies in its male-dominated College of Science and Technology.
As a result, the number of permanent teachers went from four in 2012 to 12 in 2019; and the percentage of female PhD students almost doubled during the same period: from 12% to 26%.
Changing the parental leave rules
Another challenge for the researchers is the poor maternity leave system. Younger researchers must frequently renew their contracts to keep academic positions, and many universities have employment agreements or internal regulations that prohibit their staff from taking paternity leave during the first and last year and a half of their contract. This makes it impossible for workers on two-year contracts to take paternity leave, while temporary workers for three years can only take six months. These rules have made academics think twice about having children.
Although these rules follow the guidelines of the Japanese Ministry of Labor on temporary contracts, they can be changed if the employees and their superiors reach an agreement. The Nara Institute of Science and Technology (NAIST) abolished these rules last year, allowing its workers to take parental leave whenever they want. It only took six months to change the regulations since the academics raised the problem and now all temporary teachers can request a one-year parental leave.
The University of Tokyo lifted paternity leave restrictions for both permanent and temporary staff members in 2005. In addition, the University of Tokyo has six nurseries that admit new children each month.
Teruo Fujii, rector of the university since April, has emphasized the “diversity and inclusion” of his center. More than half of the university’s new executives are women and come from diverse backgrounds, including private business and international organizations. Additionally, women reached a record 21.1% of new students this year. “The public incorporation of women into management has symbolic importance,” says Kaori Hayashi, vice chancellor of the university. “We will make our a university a place that all people want to attend.” However, the percentage of women in this center – including adjunct and auxiliary teachers – is still only 13.7%, while around 90% of its teachers are men.
Hayashi points out that in academia both men and women compete on merit and do not expect candidates to be chosen “simply because they are women,” but she insists on the importance of helping women in employment. “The gender gap [en la Universidad de Tokio] one woman for every nine men is too significant to ignore, and there is a chance that hidden talents have not yet been discovered, “he argues.” There will be more cases where the most talented person is hired and that person turns out to be a woman”.