Moderator: Thank you very much for coming to this forum today. I am so excited to have a group of panelists with such interesting backgrounds. Could I ask each of you to tell us a little bit about yourselves and your companies?
Ryu: When I was a student, I did not think about whether I was interested in rikei (science, engineering, math, medicine and the like) or bunkei (humanities, literature, business, laws and the like.) But I was really overweight when I was a high school student and I wanted to learn what happens to the food I eat and found that the University of Tokushima’s medical department offered such a course, so I decided to go there.
Later, I read in a magazine that Otsuka Pharmaceutical (which makes prescription medicines as well as beverages and food for regular consumers such as Pocari Sweat and Soyjoy) would be the first company in Japan to build a research and development center to focus on nutraceuticals, which connect the worlds of nutrition and pharmaceuticals. So, I thought: “This is it.” I wasn’t interested in working anywhere else.
The company normally only hires those with graduate degrees for research positions and I only had an undergraduate degree. But Otsuka Pharmaceutical was the only company I applied to and after some tough negotiations, I managed to get in after graduation.
The R&D center had three women working in it and we worked on developing dietary fiber because women often suffer from gastrointestinal problems. I would say Otsuka Pharmaceutical is a company that gives opportunities to those employees who want challenges, instead of forcing young employees to go through tedious, unimportant jobs early in their careers.
Also, Otsuka Pharmaceutical encourages its employees to go through a very active job rotation. There is one person who entered Otsuka Pharmaceutical as a secretary and is now a senior operating officer.
Of new female hires — except for researchers — 40 percent are science majors, while researchers are all science majors. The company has no numerical target as to how many female science majors it hires, we just end up hiring that many. Of new male hires, about 60 percent are science majors.
The company has six female operating officers, five of whom are science majors.
Hamaji: Becton Dickinson is a comprehensive medical technology company. BD’s business is divided into three segments: BD Medical, which makes medical devices such as catheters and syringes; BD Diagnostics, which makes clinical diagnostic testing system and consumables; and BD Biosciences, which makes instruments and reagents for bioscience research.
As a group, BD has total sales of $8 billion a year and Nippon Becton Dickinson Co. is the Japanese subsidiary of the company.
Science majors account for about 39 percent of the Japanese unit’s workforce, while women account for 30 percent of the total. Female science majors account for 8 percent of the employees in Japan.
While the number of female science majors may seem low, it is because Japan has no R&D centers. The BD group has its major R&D centers mainly in the U.S., Singapore and France.
Therefore, Nippon BD does not have any researchers. The female science majors in Japan are mainly nurses, clinical technologists and pharmacists. There is also a female M.D. holder who is the head of medical affairs.
Before Nippon Becton Dickinson, I worked for a traditional Japanese company with a very Japanese corporate culture. I have mostly worked in the diagnostics systems area, where there are more women than in other areas.
Because of my experience in these companies and the fact that I spent four years each in the U.S. and Germany with my previous company, I feel I probably know the differences between Japanese and American companies.
Moderator: Mr. Ebihara, what are your thoughts on Japanese companies in general?
Ebihara: I would like to address why Japan is a male-dominated society. It’s not because of discrimination or emotional conflicts between men and women, but simply because of economic reasons.
Companies are very concerned about the costs of life events. They have to pay for maternity leave, child care leave and other costs. And while women are absent to have children, they are not contributing to the company. Japanese companies want to avoid such costs.
I sometimes attend seminars with female presidents of venture companies. Even they say they want to hire men because men rarely take time off for life events. This gives men a big advantage in starting their careers.
Women account for about 40 percent of bunkei students in private universities such as Keio and Waseda and about 30 percent at the University of Tokyo.
This should mean that 30 or 40 percent of new bunkei hires would be female. But in reality, the number is only 24 percent for companies whose stock is listed on the first section of the Tokyo Stock Exchange. It goes down to 17 percent for those companies that are frequently in the top 60 in popularity rankings.
This is because many male university students apply for jobs with these popular companies, allowing these companies to avoid hiring women and paying for life events.
The percentage of female new hires would have to be at least 30 percent if Japan wants to stop being a male-dominated society.
Another thing is that white-collar managers are hesitant to be as harsh training female employees as they would be with male employees. White-collar job skills are acquired mainly by copying from and being scolded by senior workers, rather than learning from manuals. These white-collar jobs are typically male-dominated and they prefer to hire men.
For example, a salesman may be admonished at lunch by his superior for his lack of pushing hard to close a deal. This is how salespeople learn to do the job. However, men hesitate to treat female staff like this and these men tend to avoid having female subordinates.
Because of this, women have a narrower window to begin their careers. This system of selection early on in the workplace is a major issue. Because of it, Japanese companies are male-dominated and it’s hard for women to climb the corporate ladder.
However, female science majors do have an advantage over bunkei majors. Men mostly dominate the science departments of universities and the women are used to being around men. These women are also used to being reprimanded in university laboratories.
Female science majors may bring about change to the male-dominated society, but the problem is that there are too few of them.
In engineering, less than 10 percent of students are women. In chemistry and biology, women account for 30 to 40 percent. This may lead people to think the ratio of female new hires is also about 30 to 40 percent, but the real number is less than 10 percent.
This is because there are many more job seekers than there are jobs available in these areas, meaning companies can easily find qualified male candidates.
Oki: The reason I chose a science major is that my first name contains ri, the same kanji character as “ri” in rikei. My parents wanted me to have rational thinking.
Since childhood, I have always questioned things such as, “Why is this summer hot while last summer was cold?”
So I majored in meteorology at university. People told me that it would not be easy to get a job with that degree. I understood that and I guess the normal path would have been to get my master’s degree and land a job, but I really wanted to pursue what I enjoyed.
I thought to myself: “Who cares what will happen in the future?” I ended up taking my Ph.D.
Around that time, the environment was becoming a very hot issue in the world. The National Space Development Agency of Japan, or NASDA, was then working on observing the earth with satellites.
Then NASDA, which was renamed the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA, set up the Earth Observation Research Center (EORC), which I now belong to.
That sounded like exactly what I wanted to do, but NASDA told me it only hires master’s degree holders, and there were no openings for those working toward a doctorate degree.
Because of this, I gave up on working for the EORC and began working for another company related to NASDA. But after a year or two, NASDA changed its hiring criteria and started hiring those enrolled in Ph.D. courses and I was hired by NASDA.
So, my science education background makes me a minority in JAXA because people with engineering backgrounds form the overwhelming majority. In JAXA, the majority of employees are engaged in making satellites and launching rockets — engineers rather than science majors. The EORC has most of the science majors — meteorologists and the like — in JAXA.
As to the number of female science majors in JAXA, there were very few before me, but bunkei women were not so rare, though.
The situation has changed recently. Women were hired and assigned to my department two years in a row. That is very rare for JAXA.
On the number of female researchers in JAXA, the organization applied for a subsidy from the government to increase the ratio of female researchers. The subsidy was granted for three years from last October.
Women currently account for 9 percent of researchers in JAXA, which hopes to increase it to 12 percent.
Moderator: There is currently an idea that companies and organizations have to hire more women. JAXA seems to have a clear intention to increase female workers. Are there any concrete measures to achieve the goal?
Oki: Besides the numerical goal, there aren’t any clear measures. However, one thing I can say is, for example, we try to have female interviewers meet with potential candidates.
Moderator: Ms. Ryu, how has the environment surrounding female science majors changed lately?
Ryu: Otsuka Pharmaceutical is in the life science business and we don’t care if applicants are science majors or liberal arts major. However, we end up hiring a fair amount of science majors because they are interested in life science.
When he was the president in 1990, our chairman Akihiko Otsuka said, “We need diversity to grow.” He basically meant, “We have too many men.”
But if Otsuka Pharmaceutical only increased the number of women hired and didn’t take care of them after they entered the company, those women wouldn’t stay with the company long. So, in 1990, the company set up the “Women’s Forum,” which addresses the aspirations and concerns of female employees.
Otsuka Pharmaceutical also introduced maternity and paternity leave as well as flexible working hours for expectant women and those with young children. As part of our efforts to support our employees’ life events, we also opened a day care center in Tokushima and then a second one in Osaka. These centers are open 12½ hours a day.
This support pays off. We have a female operating officer who was a researcher and now works in HR and is in charge of hiring female researchers. She has two children herself and her experience is useful to other women.
Women have ascended to positions of authority in our company and we now have a “Diversity Forum,” which promotes nationality diversity and other types of diversity. Diversity promotes a variety of ideas and leads to innovation.
Moderator: There is currently a push for Japanese companies to hire more female science majors. What benefit is there to hiring such women?
Hamaji: When Japanese companies say they want to promote diversity, they start with increasing female hires because increasing the number of foreigners is more difficult.
Also, when we look at new college graduates now, women are more mature and competent. They have very solid ideas about their future careers, especially those who study abroad.
When we go to the Boston Career Forum (designed specifically for Japanese university students in the U.S. who are looking for jobs in Japan), we have to force ourselves to include men to reach an appropriate male-to-female ratio.
Ebihara: I don’t think there is a gender difference. I mean, I am a kind of person who thinks there is a reason HR managers of companies say women are more competent.
My theory is that large Japanese companies, which attract 20,000 university applicants, hire competent male students first. In companies that are often in the top 60 companies in terms of popularity among students, men make up 83 or 84 percent of new hires. This means many competent women are not hired. Therefore, mid- and small-size companies feel women are better than men in the pool of remaining job-seeking students. In the same way, competent male and female students majoring in literature are not hired.
If you look at the job placement ratio, literature majors are not so different from those who studied law, economics, business and other majors. But if you look at the job placement ratio of Waseda and Keio university students in the top 100 most popular companies, the percentage of literature majors is about a sixth of what they are for law, economics and business majors.
Companies smart enough to utilize women and literature majors inevitably grow. Recruit Holdings Co. is a classic example. It utilized many literature majors and grew very large. Consequently, many literature majors are Recruit’s board members. Companies like Rakuten Inc. and Yahoo Japan Corp. also hired competent women and literature majors, who worked as a driving force to make the companies grow.
Another thing is that science majors, male or female, are used to studying and persistently working on a project to achieve a long-term goal without complaining or giving up. They are comfortable working in a group. This also applies to students who endured strict training in sport teams.
They are also used to being admonished by their professors and other people who read their dissertations and they will make correction after correction to write dissertations satisfactory to their superiors.
Thus, science majors will be competent in doing any types of jobs — HR, general affairs, sales or others.
Oki: I’m not sure if science majors are good at working in groups. They need to be very strong in one area, and they tend to be geeky.
In research, I don’t think gender makes a difference. Competence as a researcher probably has nothing to do with gender, but how they are trained.
My group (at JAXA) has two women in their 20s. Although they are not taking advantage of them yet, JAXA has child-rearing support systems in line with the governmental standard.
I worked so much when I was young and did not have a baby until I was older. But if the two young women in my group decide to have their family early, I would like to help them in any way I can.
In a way, they are lucky because young men nowadays are very helpful. When my child got sick, I was always the one who took time off from work. But now, young fathers are willing to take time off to take care of their babies and it makes me a little jealous.
Hamaji: In Nippon Becton Dickinson, everybody who takes maternity or paternity leave or child-rearing leave comes back to work (which shows the company tries to accommodate working mothers.) Some people leave work before 5 p.m., though they sometimes take their work home.
Meanwhile, a growing number of female science majors have become company leaders and lots of women look up to them and want to be like them, I think. In Becton Dickinson’s global headquarters, the head of R&D is a woman. She is also the chief medical officer.
Also, two of the Becton Dickinson’s business units have female top leaders.
Even this is not good enough for us. So, BD group set a goal of having women make up half of managerial positions. Australia has achieved the goal and Singapore and the U.S. are close. Japan and South Korea still have long way to go.
In Japan, women hold 26 percent of our managerial positions, which is still very high for Japan. The biggest difference for Japanese companies is the ratio of female managers, not the ratio of female workers.
Moderator: If the manager is a woman, the department will be a comfortable place for women to work. Hearing the discussion today, I think the society is going in the right direction, and female science majors will play a pioneering role.
This concludes the first part of the session.