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Interview with the Directors

Support Office for Female Researchers Discussion between the Director of the Support Office for Female Researchers and the Director of the Gender Equality Promotion Office

Aiming for the Future at Yamaguchi University

We interviewed Professor Suzuko Yamazaki, the Director of the Support Office for Female Researchers, and Professor Shoko Nabeyama, the Director of the Gender Equality Promotion Office for their perspectives on female researcher support and gender equality in relation to the future of Yamaguchi University.

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YAMAZAKI, Suzuko NABEYAMA, Shoko
Director of the Support Office for Female Researchers (Special Assistant to the President)
Professor, Graduate School of Science and Engineering

Professor Yamazaki specializes in Advanced Photochemistry, subjects of research include elucidation of photocatalytic reaction mechanisms and utilization of photocatalysts for decomposition and detoxification of environmental pollutants.
Director of the Gender Equality Promotion Office
Professor, Department of Economics, Faculty of Economics

Professor Nabeyama specializes in Community Welfare Society Studies and Gender Studies. She is currently conducting research on relations between long-distance caregiving and work-life balance.

Rethinking the Foundation of Society

nabeyama2.jpgNabeyama: In 2011, ten national universities in Chugoku and Shikoku Regions issued the "Joint Statement on Promotion of Gender Equality" for realization of a gender-equal society. Following the statement, the Gender Equality Promotion Office was established in 2012 for university-wide promotion of gender equality at Yamaguchi University. The Gender Equality Promotion Office aims to create pleasant workplaces for both men and women with an ideal work-life balance. However, gender equality at Yamaguchi University is still a very new idea.

Yamazaki: The Basic Act for Gender-Equal Society was enacted in 1999. Sixteen years later, ratios of female researchers at Yamaguchi University are still low with women making up only about 14% of all researchers and only 6% of science-related faculty. On the other hand, women's participation in society is believed to be crucial for a healthy economy, and the government of Japan has set a goal of increasing the proportion of women in leadership positions in various areas of society up to 30% by 2020. In Western societies, it is considered very natural for women to hold positions of responsibility. Obviously, awareness of gender equality is very high in those countries. Japan, however, is far behind when it comes to women's participation in society. With the mission of human resource development, universities must produce personnel resources to respond to such changes in society. For that purpose, it is essential to increase the number of female researchers that can serve as role models for students and create research environments, where female researchers can continue to work without stopping their careers due to life events. Yamaguchi University's Support Office for Female Researchers was established in August last year to solve these problems.

Nabeyama: Compared to other universities, the awareness of gender equality is low at Yamaguchi University. It is also behind in its establishment of initiatives. The importance and necessity of gender equality promotion was never discussed in the first place. Also, quite a few people, both men and women, still wonder why only women receive favorable treatment when support for female researchers is discussed.

yamazaki2.jpgYamazaki: To be honest, I was hesitant, too. I wondered why we needed to emphasize being a woman before I was appointed Director of the Office. As I learned about the initiatives of other universities, however, I began to understand that the purpose of these projects was not to favor women. In order to revitalize Japan's economy, we must change the conventional perspectives of gender-specific roles and stereotypical ways to work. We need to alter individuals' ways of thinking and change the very foundations of society in order to realize a society where men and women are given equal opportunities to work.

Nabeyama: I understand that some female researchers, who have a successful balance between work and life on their own, without help, may question why women receive special treatment now. Male researchers may see the initiatives as favoritism to women. That is why it is difficult to win public opinion. The Support Office for Female Researchers and the Gender Equality Promotion Office have different targets and activities but share the ultimate goal of creating ideal working environments for everyone. I would like to emphasize that the purpose of our activities is not to advantage or disadvantage one gender, but rather to ensure ideal working conditions for all workers. We need to understand that we must not be tied to gender stereotypes.

Yamazaki: Some of the university's students are planning to become teachers. Others will influence children the next generation as members of society or parents. So our mission, as current university teaching staff, is important. I believe society will change only after all teaching staff members are aware of the importance of gender equality, cultivate awareness in students, and encourage them to be active in society.

Yamaguchi University's Specific Projects

Nabeyama: The Gender Equality Promotion Office has launched a homepage to release information and increase awareness about gender equality. To be specific, it is used to introduce work-life balance support programs and disclose the results of our awareness surveys. We also work cooperatively with students to investigate the current state of gender equality at Yamaguchi University and create leaflets to introduce various people as role models of positive work-life balance.

Yamazaki: In November last year, our initiative to support female researchers was selected by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology as a "Program Supporting the Research Activities of Female Researchers (Organizations)," to be supported by the Funds for the Development of Human Resources in Science and Technology. Following this event, the Support Office for Female Researchers is accelerating various projects between 2014 and 2016 with five points of focus.
 The first measure is to raise awareness and sharing values throughout the university. We are planning to offer seminars not only for increasing the awareness of teaching staff but also for assisting female researchers in career design and enlightening all students, including male students.
 Second is to supporting a positive work-life-balance. To give assistance to female researchers experiencing life events, we will introduce the Research Assistant Program and secure a campus day care.
 The third measure is to assist in networking among female researchers. Horizontal connections among female researchers will be strengthened through symposiums, various seminars, and networking events.
 The fourth measure is to reinforce research skills. For that purpose, study groups on funding application writing and preparing academic journal articles in English will be organized.
 The last measure is to expand foundations for female researchers. The Support Office will start various projects, including the introduction of role models, in order to produce graduates who have acquired advanced knowledge and research skills in university and graduate courses. A great majority of graduate school students are men, and we are seeking ways to encourage female students to go on to graduate courses.
 For newly assigned teaching staff members who are struggling to get accustomed to the new environment, we are launching the Mentor System, in which senior teachers acting as occupational models will respond to various concerns of the new teaching staff, such as research issues, career formation, and work-life balance. The Support Office also has a full-time counselor. We will provide firm back-up for female researchers by reinforcing the partnership between the Support Office and the community and offering various information about childrearing and caregiving.

Nabeyama: Such projects will be the first step to making Yamaguchi University an ideal workplace not only for women but for everyone.

Yamazaki: The Support Office will offer various support programs to female researchers who want to continue their research activities despite life events, such as marriage, childbearing, childrearing, and caregiving. However, these life events are not supposed to be taken care of only by women; our measures are in place to actively improve the current situation where there are too few female researchers. Society must be altered so that women, like men, can demonstrate their abilities whether or not they are experiencing such life events.

Nabeyama: Also, not everyone can concentrate only on work 24 hours a day. We will do our best to create a framework so that people in different situations will be able to work comfortably with or without life events.

To Realize Gender Equality

yamazaki-nabeyama.jpgYamazaki: We have set a goal to raise the proportion of female researchers from the current state of 14% to 17% by the end of 2016. We are aiming to raise the ratio of science-related female teaching staff to 10% by 2018. Within five years at the latest, we will have a female teacher in all science-related departments that currently have no female teaching staff. But adding more female teaching staff alone does not help realize true gender equality. Female staff have to participate in decision making in order to change the entire university. In that sense, I hope there will be female professors added to each faculty.

Nabeyama: Society is composed of men and women. It is ideal that both men and women actively participate in the workforce. We have therefore set a goal to increase female teaching and administrative staff members in management positions.

Yamazaki: Currently the Support Office for Female Researchers is an independent organization, but just during the accelerated phase of the first three years. After this phase, the Support Office will be a subsidiary organization of the Gender Equality Promotion Office.

Nabeyama: More attention is paid to women at present in order to promptly promote gender equality, but I would like to encourage everyone to be aware that gender equality is an issue for everyone regardless of a person's gender. We will continue to promote our gender equality initiatives at Yamaguchi University in cooperation with other universities and affiliated institutes. Traditionally Yamaguchi University took advantage of the spirit of "supporting each other" without relying on official assistance, but it is not easy to realize a gender-equal society without assistance or programs. Anyone who has encountered a problem or life event is encouraged to come to talk with us. We are hoping to create a society where it is natural that both men and women to work while living healthy lives.