The trend toward a small ratio of female researchers is common among developed countries with similar social structures, but there are major differences in the extent to which this is the case in each nation. Although the ratio is above 30% in the United Kingdom (37.7%) and the United States (33.6%), it is lower in East Asia. In South Korea, the ratio is 17.3% (OECD statistics from Main Science and Technology Indicators) and 15.3% in Japan (Survey of Research and Development, 2016). This shows a major difference in the current ratio of female researchers. Both the UK and the US have spent over 30 years working for raising the ratio in order to achieve these levels.
In the US as well as UK, gender research has been accumulated since 1980s, having brought recognitions of the small numbers of female researchers as a ‘problem’. Thus, ‘Science and Technology’ policies, designed to raise the number of female researchers, can be identified as background factors in the increasing the presence of women in science. A large volume of research has been conducted by using approaches including science and gender studies, education and gender studies, and feminist science studies. Theories on what prevents women from pursuing careers in STEM fields have been developed. The results of the research have been used for developing policies to promote women’s participation in these fields in various countries. At the same time, these policies have prompted investigative research, so that the implementation of policies and understanding of the current state of women in research has progressed.
The gender statistics was the real key to promoting these research as well as policymaking. The statistics have been compiled every other year in the US since 1980 when the ‘Science and Engineering Equal Opportunity Act’ was enacted. Since 2003, every three years published by the EC, they have been required as a means for understanding the current status of women in research in the European Union. South Korea has implemented policies similar to those that drove increases in the ratio of female researchers in Europe and the US, resulting in the female ratio having exceeded that of Japan. Meanwhile, in Japan, both gender research, and ‘science and technology’ policy are lagging far behind other countries. As our joint research has revealed, the gender statistics are insufficient, which form a background for research and policymaking (Ogawa et al., 2015).
Based on the global trends of technology and policy described above, it can be said that this research is indispensable at this time.
Brief History of the Research Group
The members of this project have both collectively and individually been engaged in studies related to the women researchers in science and engineering in Japan. In terms of a joint research, Ogawa and some members of the group were involved in a study that started with a grant from the Toyota Foundation in 2005 to hold an international workshop in September for three days in 2006 for the purpose of forming a network of Asian gender researchers in science and engineering (http://www.wstna.org/).
Subsequently, the team also received several funds to conduct qualitative comparisons with South Korea and Taiwan. Through this process, the group determined that in order to conduct comparative research with the US and Europe, they would need to use the international standard indexes, for example, indexes of She Figures which is published every three years by the European Commission, to understand the actual conditions of female researchers in East Asia. When the data were actually fine-tuned, it became clear that there were some inconsistencies found, such as differences in categorization of home economics and education among three countries. In addition to those detailed discrepancies, the crucial insufficiency of the statistics about Japanese researchers was found, while the statistics about students are available in Japan. However, by attempting to make adjustments for differences in departments and fields of study, we were able to make comparisons related to students, and reported on comparisons with the European Union in 2014 (the Women's Worlds Congress, India) and detailed comparative analysis of data from the European Union and Japan in 2015 (Gender Summit 6, Seoul). In this way, we finally reached the stage where comparison with Europe and the US was possible, but the lack of available statistics on female Japanese researchers in terms of field and position was a problem that remained unresolved. We submitted requests for improvements related to this problem to policy makers.
For this project, in addition to continuing to develop quantitative researches based on the available data, we are beginning to research using qualitative methods. Focusing on interviews with individuals who have a good understanding of the process to decide policies that aim to increase the number of female researchers, we will conduct analysis of published research and oral histories. We will share these results widely by holding international workshops and publishing reports that aim to contribute to both education policies for female research students and facilities for them to put their education into practice.