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Conference explores how the US and Japan can close the gender gap

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Japan Program visiting scholar Mariko Yoshihara Yang chairs a panel discussion at the conference "Womenomics, the Workplace, and Women" on Nov. 4, 2016, at the Bechtel Conference Center.
Photo credit: 
Rod Searcey

Japanese and American scholars and practitioners gathered at Stanford recently for “Womenomics, the Workplace, and Women,” a full-day conference seeking to find pathways to advance opportunity for women in society and the workplace.

Nearly 75 people attended the public conference, which included 20 speakers and was co-sponsored by Stanford’s Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center and the Clayman Institute for Gender Research, as well as the United States-Japan Foundation and the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science.

Takeo Hoshi, director of the Japan Program at Shorenstein APARC, noted that women in Japan and the United States have long encountered obstacles related to gender. Currently, the United States and Japan rank 45th and 111th, respectively, on the Global Gender Gap Index.

“The conference is a unique opportunity for experts from Japan and Silicon Valley to learn from each other and their countries’ recent attempts to tackle gender diversity, particularly in the areas of business and technology,” Hoshi said.

The Japanese government’s inclusion of women’s advancement in its economic growth strategy 'Abenomics,' named after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, is “one of the few good policies,” Hoshi said, yet complex cultural constraints and workplace policies need to change in order for it to work. Similarly, in Silicon Valley, while strides have been made, gender diversity still lags in corporate leadership and boards of directors especially in the areas of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).

Panelists shared perspectives on women’s status, leadership and work-life balance in both countries throughout four panel discussions led by Hoshi, and Shelley Correll, director of the Clayman Institute and professor of sociology; Kenji Kushida, Japan Program research scholar; and Mariko Yoshihara Yang, a visiting scholar at Shorenstein APARC.

One broad theme that emerged in the discussions: gender equity progress takes time. Closing the gender gap will come incrementally and a multidisciplinary approach could help the process. 

Areas highlighted by the panelists included a need to address unconscious bias and to improve programs that support women in the workplace as well as those seeking to re-enter the labor force after taking time off, such as increased access to childcare and elimination of “evening work” for those who hold full-time jobs.

Panelists suggested expanding educational opportunities, mentorship and peer-to-peer networks among women, as well as training centered on gender equity for all employees. Quotas and government incentives for organizations that adopt equity practices were also proposed to achieve greater female representation.

Additional discussions took place between the panelists in a closed-door workshop the following day. A report that details outcomes and a set of policy recommendations is expected in 2017; the full list of panelists, topics addressed and conference agenda can be viewed here.