'Rikejo' a Japanese perspective on improving STEM diversity
A push for more Japanese women of science
Noriko Osumi, Executive Director, United Centers for Advanced Research & Translational Medicine; Director, Center for Neuroscience; Professor, Department of Developmental Neuroscience at Tohoku University School of Medicine
Change can be a struggle, but at least Japan’s science girls are no longer lost for words. Roughly translating as ‘science girl,’ rikejo is a buzzword referring to a girl studying or working in science and technology professions.
The Nature Index reports that the Japanese gender gap in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields remains large. The Japanese Cabinet Office’s 2017 White Paper on Gender Equality reports that just 10.2% of engineering researchers are women. The picture is slightly better in science (14.2%) and agriculture (21.2%). Across all fields (including in the social sciences) only 15.3% of Japanese researchers are women — about half the average proportion among OECD countries.
‘Leaky pipelines’ — where women drop out before establishing a sustainable career — are globally ubiquitous in STEM. In the United States, for example, a 2011 survey showed 52% of PhD students in neuroscience, my field, were women. But that drops to 44% for postdoctoral fellows and to 29% for faculty. The numbers are worse in Japan, judging by membership figures for the Japan Neuroscience Society. A 2017 survey found that only 32% of student members are women, and the proportion falls to just 20% for regular members, which includes postdocs and faculty.
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