The administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has set an admirable goal of including women more fully into the workplace. So far, though, that intention has produced few positive gains. One small advance may offer a glimmer of hope. The number of women in school managerial positions, such as principals, presidents or heads of faculty, reached a record 21,827 as of May 1, according to the education ministry.
That upward trend is surely welcome, since the number of women in higher positions in educational institutions continues to be disappointingly low. Women constitute only 23.3 percent of the management positions in education. Among female school officials, 68 were university presidents, up slightly from a year earlier, and 95 were university vice presidents, again more than ever before. However, that still translates to a dismally low 8.7 percent of women in charge at universities and 21.1 percent at junior colleges.
Educational institutions may be slightly less unfair overall than companies in Japan, only 7.4 percent of which have a female president, according to data from the credit research agency Teikoku Databank earlier this year. But the goal of having women in 30 percent of management positions in either education or the economy is still a long way off.
A growing number of female teachers are continuing to work until they get promoted. The number of university faculty members who are female topped 40,000 last year, or 22.5 percent of all university faculty members. If all of those female faculty members are fairly and equally promoted, it will help ensure that policies and programs that are fair and equal for all students can be firmly established.
Unfortunately, as with the economy, women tend to be in charge of other women. Most female heads of companies were found in the beauty industry, and most of the presidents and vice presidents of universities are at women’s schools.
Women also tend to be in higher positions at institutions of earlier education. Women accounted for 20.6 percent of principals and vice principals at primary schools, a much larger percentage than at universities.
The push for greater inclusion of women in the economy must necessarily begin where both women and men are primarily socialized — in schools.
If women never see a woman in power during their early schooling, they are unlikely to expect to see one in their future workplace. And, of course, the same goes for men.
These changes, welcome as they are, are still not quick enough. All-female support groups and associations have helped women in the U.S. and Europe considerably, but in Japan such groups are a rarity. Alliances and organizations that represent and promote women are one way to level the playing field.
Both men and women everywhere need to realize that the promotion of women for greater equality in educational management positions is the first step toward greater equality in society.