Thursday, March 16, 2017
Shibaura Institute of Technology aims to be a university where various members are respected and can exercise their abilities, where these diverse impacts on delivering development and innovation. As an important part of such diversity expansion, we have been working on gender equality promotion.
Meanwhile, in Japanese society, there is still a big gender gap in the success of various fields. In manufacturing and every other industry as well, the proportion of women in engineering is low, and the slow-growth situation where women in a leading position, has not been resolved.
As a center of excellence to contribute talents to the society, universities should change this situation and play a leading role in creating a gender-equal society that anyone can demonstrate personality and ability, regardless of gender in various fields.
By considering these backgrounds, we interviewed Taeko Uemura, who has led the company as a president for a long time since as a university student and now a President and Representative Director of Kyonan Souko Co. and the Councilor of SIT, and Masato Murakami who leads university’s development as a President of SIT.
We offered a discussion about university reform and gender equality, especially on issues and possibilities in the transition period where gender equality progresses at science and technology universities.
President and Representative Director of Kyonan Souko Corporation.
Councilor of Shibaura Institute of Technology
In 1976, graduated from Konan University, Faculty of Literature. In 1974, appointed President and Representative Director of Kyonan Souko Co. Currently, a President and Representative Director of Kyonan Souko Co., Chairman of Representative Director of Drama Mode, Director of Private Finance Initiative Promotion Corporation of Japan, Audit Committee of West Nippon Expressway, Standing Committee of Kyoto Association of Corporate Executives, Managing Director of Kansai Association of Corporate Executives, President of NPO Uruwashino-Machi, Michizukuri, Director of The Ports and Harbours Association of Japan, Member of the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport and Tourism Capital Development Council, and serves numerous other posts. In addition to activities as a corporate manager, she participates in the activities of town development, and writes poetry and essays. Published books: "To A Vanishing Point" (Japan International Poets Association Excellent Award), "Musuuno Irritation", and many others.
President of Shibaura Institute of Technology
Doctor of Engineering
Specializes in material science and superconductivity
Entered Morioka Daiichi High School (Iwate Prefecture) in 1970. While in high school, studied abroad through AFS Intercultural Programs in San Francisco for a year. Graduated from University of Tokyo’s Department of Metallurgy in 1979, and received a Ph.D. in Graduate School of Engineering, Tokyo University School of Engineering from University of Tokyo in 1984. Joined Nippon Steel Corporation and involved in research on superconductivity and shape memory alloys at Technical Research Institute. After that, he was appointed as a director of the Superconductivity Engineering Research Laboratory. He was a Visiting Professor at Nagoya University, Iwate University and others as well. In 2003, he began working at Shibaura Institute of Technology as a Professor in Department of Materials Science and Engineering, and appointed as Vice President in 2008, President in 2012. He succeeded in superconducting human surfacing for the first time in the world, won the Nikkei BP prize, 1991 World Congress Superconductivity Award of Excellence and others. He also succeeded in developing the world's strongest bulk superconducting magnet, and his studies have been published in Nature magazine. In the field of superconductivity, the number of his total citations has once entered the top ten of the world.
Efforts to promote gender equality
Uemura: Today I'm looking forward to talking with Mr. Murakami about gender equality on Shibaura Institute of Technology (SIT). SIT puts efforts to this theme very enthusiastic more than I imagined.
Murakami: I entered SIT at 2003 and I could find few female teachers at that time. In the several meetings, most of participants consisted of male teacher. So I found the atmosphere of meeting was not creative and constructive, it was difficult for me to make a new ideas.
It is said that educational research increases its brilliance in diversity. Diversity is necessary to create innovation. From the perspective of diversity, female has an important role. The number of female students who study engineering is not so small in the world. However in Japan, the situation is not the same from the historical background. Even in SIT, female students’ ratio is around 15%. I thought that I should increase female teachers to increase female students’ enrollment.
So, I immediately started to work on gender equality after appointed as President. Fortunately, the number of female teachers has increased, and now it is about 15%. It is very different from 2003. On the other hand, 45% of the faculty staffs are female and this is well-balanced, but the challenge is that we have few female in leading positions.
Uemura: After that, SIT won the "Tokyo Metropolitan Women's Promotion Award" (2015) based on President’s effort. Since I started working in the period when female workers were very rare, I faced several difficulties from the pressure of male society. Nowadays, the government supports female’s social participation, so I hope this movement will spread to the female teachers, female students and female graduates who studied at SIT. I guess that some problems still remain while transforming from male-centered university to diversified university. I hope SIT will manage and overcome these difficulties.
Issues in transition period - Lack of understanding of efforts focused on female
Murakami: In the transition period, efforts focused on female and positive actions * may be difficult to understand. For example, when setting up a Women’s Lounge and supporting female researchers, there are many reactions from male such as "why only female are given preferential treatment" and "they are against gender equality". And some male are indifferent. In response to such reactions, I think that it is important to show the data on how big the gender gap in of Japan is large from the global perspective, and grasp the reality to promote discussion and deepen understanding.
Uemura: I think that's a wonderful idea. Very theoretical and logical as an industrial university. Positive action is taken not only for female but also for various minorities. But the necessity and legitimacy of positive action cannot be understood or accepted unless it is based on logical thinking.
Murakami: Regarding the positive action, there are some negative opinion such as "although we should select by ability, female area given preferential treatment." However, I believe that negative actions against female have been taken at many industrial universities. In other words, it has been a common practice to exclude female applicant from the faculty selection because of gender. The reason for this is that the experiment may be late at night in the engineering department, and if assigned as a senior thesis advisor, you should be available through day and night.
Therefore, female applicant will be excluded because many people think they cannot manage it. I think that these things have been improved step by step at last. However, is it correct to think male faculty may stay up all night? This work style is neither a comfortable workplace for men. Creating an environment which is easy for female to learn and work also leads good effect for male. From this point, I think there is the significance to put efforts on gender equality.
Uemura: Working on gender equality leads to improve work style reform and work-life balance. On the other hand, categorized as “female” sometimes leads to interfere individuality. When I started working, my customers worried about me because I am a female president. Similar to academic learning, I think the important point in work is whether they have necessary and sufficient ability, and gender is one of my character.
In business case, the company should be evaluated by objective facts such as how much credit capacity is available and how sufficient its skill is. Even if president’s gender might be one of the evaluation elements, it should not lead to total evaluation. Evaluated high or low, it is not a matter of gender but about the company’s ability itself. But unfortunately, being a female president had been is focused on and frequently led to evaluation. Nowadays, it is gradually softened.
Murakami: What Councilor Uemura said points out the core of gender equality. Originally, everything should be evaluated by objective facts such as competence. But inevitably gender is focused. This situation is same for universities and research fields. However, if being a female president attracts attention at first, we can build a good relationship and trust when we realize they have enough ability. However, of course it is not easy.
Uemura:I totally agree with President Murakami. When having an appointment with my customer, I also put effort on how gender is unrelated to those facts, in order to be trusted by them.
Murakami: It is same in a political scene. “Female” are stands out easily in the group where females are minority. If a female makes a mistake, she is tend to be blamed by the reason of gender. It is because male does not stand out because he is the majority.
* Policy to provide tentative and transient special opportunities to those who are likely to be socially disadvantaged such as women, in order to quickly resolve unreasonable gaps.
Uemura: Dualism based on the gender is very simple to understand. We must change the way of thinking for not based on gender, but whether he or she is evaluated as a one of human beings. In fact, the society is not so simple to think in gender-based dualism and we are well diversified in our society. There are several differences such as nationality, culture, religion, history, the way of thinking, and so on. Important thing is to understand and to respect those differences.
Murakami: I always tell students that diversity is very important in the global society and we should understand and respect each other. And gender equality is part of diversity promotion.
Uemura: To recognize and accept the importance of diversity, the word “diversity” seems like undeniable and perfect. However, in a sense, I think diversity is unsmooth and is the collision of different things. Some area may be well mixed, but other area may be still confronted. It is not so easy to mix up each other like a paint mixing. In these environment, we have to manage the whole society including difficulties.
Murakami: When different things come into homogeneous environment, many people will be surprised at first and reject them. But when we take it at the first step with open mind, people will learn a lot because it is different from ours. From that point, new ideas will be born and lead to innovation. Research is also the same. Every research institution that produces excellent results respects diversity without exception.
Uemura: It seems if we have a mind which drives to make a new idea or innovation, we can easily accept the difference and some collisions.
Murakami: As you said, there are two aspects; harmonization and individuality, such as identity. The existence of both aspects will lead to understand and respect each other. I think this point is very important.
Challenges in the transitional period — advancement of women and the organizational culture
Uemura: Every organization has an accumulated history, and there are a structural order and a culture cultivated in the history. In light of my own experience of failure, I would say, for example, when female new member enters an organization that has been only running by men, because these structures and cultures are built on the basis of men, the female new members may be difficult to obtain opportunities in those environment, and as a result, it may not work well. Or, they may be recommended the representative of the reform in the organization by who willing to do. In order to advance to the area that female had not been able to advance up to is, not only the ability as an individual but also the relationship between organizational culture and organizational order. In the organizational culture that men have built, I hope that female bring the chance to change culture such as that female are able to survive well and breathe new winds into them. Now, I think that female are required to be that kind of existence.
Murakami: From a global perspective, when the globalization of corporate activities progressed in the 1980s, for example, American companies tried to control the global economy by expanding their business to countries around the world, however that did not work well. That’s because they tried to bring their own standards without respecting history, customs and culture of other countries and the regions. After such the failure, McDonald has developed a menu that is respected food culture of each country such as Taiwan, Islamic countries, etc., and spread them all over the world, not only American-style hamburgers. As the result, McDonald has been rooted in various places.
Uemura: The McDonald's in Kyoto is Kyoto style.
Murakami: We respected the culture of the region and created a new thing by blending exactly with the culture. Integration and uniqueness: I think this viewpoint is important for the expansion of diversity. Gender equality is also the same.
Uemura: In that sense, I hope that SIT can promote gender equality by taking advantage of the characteristics and goodness SIT has cultivated.
Murakami: SIT has been steadily increasing its history as an institute of technology, but it was also a male-centered society. Of course, this is not only SIT but all. In fact, SIT started an activity called "Inst. of technology Summit" which cooperates with 5 universities which are Fukuoka Institute of Technology, Hiroshima Institute of Technology, Osaka Institute of Technology, Aichi Institute of Technology, and Shibaura Institute of technology. Each is a typical institute of technology, female student and teacher ratio is also very low, because the ratio of SIT was the highest. The fact is that the gender equality is not so advanced. You said that SIT can promote gender equality by taking advantage of the characteristics. But I think it is necessary that the all Japanese technological universities promote gender equality cooperatively.
Possibility of the transition — opportunity for female human resource development
Uemura: I look back on my past, I could have good experience in logistics business which is male-centered. I got the role which is difficult to take on for female. This opportunity gave me a wonderful perspective with responsibility.
Murakami: It is a wonderful and positive thinking. In fact, there are a lot of female students, who are positive. And it has a positive effect on the surroundings.
Uemura: Today, there is a policy boost to female advancement in the field of science and technology. Therefore, I hope that the technological universities do not miss the opportunity, recognize the opportunity as female students are less, offers many opportunities including positive action to female, raise human resources.
Murakami: I think that it is a very positive idea to think female ratio is low as opportunity. By all means, I would like to expand the place of the female activity to answer the expectation of Ms. Uemura.
Uemura: I'd rather say, I am originally a liberal arts oriented and creative person. However, I had to be a logical thinker as a CEO. Management must be carried out logically. Then, it is necessary to analyze the thing felt by the sensibility, and to make the judgment. In Japanese society in the past, there may have been a cultural base in which female tend to be grown up sensibility more than men. If female who grow up in such a background, and enter the field of science and technology, acquire logical thinking, she may be a talented person with a unique sense.
Murakami: Both work and research are not related the gender at all. However, as you said, in Japan where men and female were often put in a different position, it is also true that there is a viewpoint of each position. When I have a conversation with female professors, I often realized the perspectives which I could imagined before.
Expectations for future efforts
Uemura: Especially for female students to strengthen logical thinking, I hope that they have the role like a project leader and get the experience a lot of project management. It is possible to acquire the team management skill through the project.
Murakami: It is really important such an experience. In SIT, many female students tend to become a leader. SIT also encourages students to study abroad, and the experience of studying abroad has the same effect as those activities. It is necessary to do everything by oneself in an unknown culture and the society.
Uemura: I totally agree with you. In terms of the relationship with society, I think it is important for students of science and technology to understand how what they are learning is actually useful in the world. And the liberal arts connect them.
Murakami: In fact, it is a university-wide challenge. It is also a challenge to promote making a career choice in the engineering field for middle and high school students. In high school, engineering is not taught. I think that it is necessary to have the chance to know how engineering is useful for the society in such a way that they are interested in engineering, and the career selection of the engineering field is made.
Uemura: For middle and high school students, a socially active engineer may fulfill the role. It is good what if the female graduates who are working as engineers show how their knowledge and skills contribute to society, junior high school female students aspire to engineer. And then, the number of female students who take an examination of SIT increases and the virtuous cycle spreads. I hope that the efforts to increase such female students will be further strengthened. At the same time, by the President's outstanding leadership, the number of female professors increases, make the education and research environment easier for female.
Murakami: Thank you for your time today. With your encouragement, I would like to build up a university where both female and male shine at.
Positions and titles are at the time of the interview.