Field of Science

Affirmative action in science in Japan

Hokkaido University in Japan have an advertisement in Nature (July 9th, 2009) where they invite Ph.D.s to apply for faculty positions. They will hire 25 professors (assistant/associate) and lecturers over the next five years for science, technology, and agriculture positions. "Applications are open only for female researchers." (original emphasis)

Ultimately, who are hired in faculty positions should only be based on merit. The best candidates should be hired, giving no consideration to gender, species, race, height, religion, food preference, martial status, sexual preference, vertigo, et cetera, et cetera, given that none of these would interfere with job function. It therefore seems unfair that Hokkaido University will earmark positions for females, when there might be better qualified males who would have liked to apply.

However, society (Japan in particular) is already heavily biased in terms on merits. Women do not have the same opportunities as men for at least two different reasons.

1. Role models. It will become much more likely that other women will find becoming a professor a reachable goal once they see others achieving it. We may not think that this should be the case - after all the whole point is that gender doesn't matter, but that only qualifications do - but the fact is that it does. Who we identify with is demonstratively influenced by the characteristics that we share.

2. Remedying Discrimination. Women has a tough time being hired as professors in Japan, probably for several reasons. I recall reading that a female applicant was turned down because a male applicant "needed the job to provide for his family, while the female applicant had her husband to do that." (Paraphrasing from memory.) Additionally, the reason that there are fewer female professors do of course have something to do with there being fewer qualified female candidates, but that is most likely because fewer women see that path as one that is viable for them, in part because there is a bias in what students are encouraged to pursue in the educational system (boys do math, girls do language, or some such stereotype). Discrimination continues to exist in the favor of males for hiring professors, and to remedy that, tipping the scale in favor of women will arguably have a positive effect.

For more information on the positions at HU go to F3 project: fortississimo affirmative action in Hokkaido University. (It's only in Japanese, so it appears application is also open only for Japanese speakers?)

P.S. A couple of places here I have made some assertions that I believe to be true. I have read, for example, that who we identify with influences our career choice, and that we identify with those who are similar to. Forgive me for not listing references, but I trust the enthusiastic reader will have no problems locating sources that argue this and other points.

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