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Dawn of a new era for women with math and science backgrounds

  • February 27, 2013
  • , Asahi
  • Trending@Japan

Mathematics, science, and engineering have long been viewed in Japan and elsewhere as academic disciplines that were largely the preserve of male students. However, women are now considered to be an important potential labor force in view of the aging population and declining birthrate, and are expected to play a major role in revitalizing the Japanese economy. As a result, an increasing number of local business enterprises are keen to hire “rikejo,” or girls majoring in math, science, and engineering. Asahi took up moves by the Japanese heavy machinery industry, a bastion of male workers, to reach out to female students specializing in the sciences based on the judgment that the production of innovative goods and the revolutionary improvement of work processes require input from “rikejo” in labs and on assembly lines. Nissan and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries reportedly organize tours of theirs plants and workshops, including in-house daycare facilities, and offer workshops with their female employees so as to provide “rikejo” with a glimpse of the working environment, which the firms emphasize is favorable to women researchers and engineers.

According to TV Tokyo, the construction industry is also keen to tap female engineers at a time when it is experiencing an acute manpower shortage caused in part by massive cuts in government spending for public works projects over the past several years. The broadcaster highlighted Caterpillar Japan’s efforts to showcase to female engineers the latest models of heavy-duty equipment, such as bulldozers and cranes. The program explained that numerous state-of-the-art IT technologies, such as a GPS-guided location identification system, make the equipment more “user-friendly” for female operators in an otherwise harsh working environment.

Nearly 38% of researchers in Britain are women, while women only account for 14% of all researchers in Japan.

Meanwhile, NHK reported on several Japanese universities’ efforts to provide women with PhDs in the sciences a range of support programs so that their academic careers will not be disrupted or terminated by giving birth, parenting, and/or taking care of their aging parents. Ochanomizu University in Tokyo, dubbed “Japan’s Radcliffe College,” offers a program in which women researchers with doctorates are able to balance career and personal life, working only two hours a week while pursuing academic research. Yamanashi University allows women scientists to take on female mentees, who receive professional and personal advice in exchange for carrying out lab work and other duties. The network said these efforts are designed to increase the number of female scientists and engineers at Japanese colleges and other research institutions, noting that only one out of seven researchers in Japan is a woman, as opposed to more than one out of three in Britain and the U.S., and one out of four in France and Germany.

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