Friday, November 14, 2014

Women in Higher Education in Japan

Research on Women in Higher Education

Regardless of academic pedigree and professional desires in Japan, many women leave the workforce after marriage or the birth of their first child, a trend that piqued my interest in: (1) the factors underlying women’s drop in labor participation and (2) the role of higher education in ameliorating this gender gap in the workforce.

To examine these issues, I am pursuing a qualitative research project that explores female students’ educational experiences juxtaposed against their personal and professional aspirations – essentially, I am trying to get at what institutions of higher education in Japan can do to bolster women’s advancement in the workforce. As the voices of women are critical to my understanding, I’m conducting 15 two-hour, face-to-face interview sessions with Japanese female college students this fall in Tokyo (in cafes, libraries, dining halls, etc.).
Kichijoji Flower Stand

What I have learned from my first set of interviewees has been nothing short of enlightening, as they are acutely aware of what it takes for women to thrive in Japan. For example, one suggestion – which maps to a larger goal of increasing the enrollment rate of women in prestigious institutions – is to arm parents of daughters with information that de-stigmatizes empowerment. The idea is to improve tuition-paying parents’ understanding that attending world class institutions does not lower their daughters' marriage marketability, or potential for a successful and committed romantic partnership. This single recommendation was like an academic spider-web, leading me to explore issues of family identity in Japan and an underlying parental fear of daughters becoming “too educated” and “too intelligent” for the societal competition to date and mate. Another suggestion included extending the senpai/kohai college relationship (that is of upper and lower class students) into the workforce, specifically encouraging female senpais to mentor younger women in the workplace. In this context, female protégés who are newly hired employees have a sounding board when they face on-the-job issues related to sex and gender. This was yet another insightful interview, after which I promptly researched the significance of senpai/kohai relationships in Japan.

It goes without saying that all of my conversations with students are changing how I act in the classroom. Japanese students have influenced my strategies, icebreakers, rapport, feedback, and overall demeanor. Moreover, my Fulbright faculty liaisons on each campus are playing a meaningful role in how I interpret and adapt to my surroundings. 

Fulbright Faculty Liaison: Dr. Yujin Yaguchi

My classes at the University of Tokyo (Todai) began in mid-October and it was no surprise that, like Professor Orui, my Todai Fulbright faculty liaison Dr. Yujin Yaguchi is kind and generous. Dr. Yaguchi is the department chair for global studies, the director of international admission, a prolific scholar, and an important advisory member on several university wide committees, yet on numerous occasions he has invited me to lunch to introduce me to my departmental colleagues and other foreign instructors and researchers. He also attended the Japan US Education Commission reception, and introduced me to several of his contemporaries. Dr. Yaguchi is a beloved adviser to Todai graduate students, and has commissioned several of them to help me acclimate. I am enjoying learning the customs and habits of my new work environment and Japanese society in general. 

Yaguchi Sensei, University of Tokyo

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