Moderator: Let’s discuss the challenge of hiring more female science majors and solutions to that issue. Let me first ask you what kind of skills are you seeking in women? I wonder if the marketing skills of female science majors, instead of just their capabilities in research and development, could be very beneficial to companies.

Ryu: Generally, women control 70 percent of the final purchasing decisions. When it comes to daily consumer products, the figure is closer to 90 percent. Men maintain some say over the purchase of a car, but their wives are having more influence over that purchase, too.

Otsuka Pharmaceutical is engaged in the pharmaceutical and nutraceutical business. Nutraceuticals are consumer products that differ from pharmaceuticals, which are a logic-based, B-to-B business that involves clinical development. Nutraceuticals rely on the opinion of people who drive consumption. Nutraceuticals require female employees to work in research and development, the origin of the business, not only in marketing or sales.

At Otsuka Pharmaceutical, whether a woman majored in science or literature is not important. The company assigns women to head a production unit or work in R&D, while requiring them to manage the submission of new-product applications to the government. One woman handling application submissions was appointed an operating officer as she successfully shortened the application time for new pharmaceutical products by more than a year. Cutting the processing time is huge for patented pharmaceuticals. There are many areas where women can play active roles, particularly in the consumer products business.

For female high school students, however, it may be hard to see the benefit of studying science in university after they enter a company. Science may seem more suitable for men, while arts may be seen as better for women. But in fact, studying science would give them a wider range of job opportunities in such fields as engineering, IT and agriculture. At our company, one woman in her 20s who majored in science developed a product using soybeans.

I joined Otsuka Pharmaceutical in 1986 when the Equal Employment Opportunity Law took effect. Since then, doors have opened to allow women to work in a variety of fields. When we interview women, we see many excellent candidates, but the problem is that many of them can’t maintain their focus after they start working. Unlike men, they have multiple options to take in their lives. Men have no choice except to continue working. Because they have options, women have to maintain a stronger will to work.

A difference emerges between women who are pampered and men who are strictly trained in the first five years of employment. I would tell male managers that they should reprimand their female employees if the managers want to educate them. Female employees should take criticism if they don’t want to be discriminated against.

Hamaji: I agree. Typical Japanese and Korean companies probably fail to motivate women after they begin work. They may give up building careers, despite working hard, as they have no successful precedents to follow.

My previous company was a typical traditional Japanese company. They say they are utilizing their female employees, but the reality is that women are treated differently from men. They are exempt from relocation and have little opportunity to be promoted to management positions and that’s a problem

In Germany, employees enjoy strong protection. They are allowed to take child care leave for three years. A married couple can split the three years between them and companies are required to hold their positions to allow them to return to work.

But compared to the U.S., Germany is a male-dominated society where key positions are mostly held by men. In the U.S., there are many female CEOs. When I managed women there, I treated them the same way I did the men.

The way to expand chances for employees, including female science majors, to play active roles in companies is to expand midcareer recruitment. Unlike foreign companies, traditional Japanese companies rarely make midcareer hires. If a company embraces this option, people, including housewives, can have the option of returning to work. Science majors, who have specialized in a specific area, can also take advantage of this.

Moderator: Female astronauts have recently emerged. Do you see that as a positive thing for new employees and companies?

Oki: Our job is basically science-related. Our institute offers several career paths. One allows you to eventually take a managerial position after concentrating on hardware R&D. Another is continuing to specialize in an area without taking a managerial role. You can make your choice many years after you enter our institute. An employee who builds expertise in a specific area without taking a managerial position earns respect.

When I visited NASA in the U.S. 17 years ago, I found that not everyone is on a management track and they continue their research until they turn 60 years old. That contrasts with Japanese companies where many climb the corporate ladder to form a pyramid structure.

JAXA is currently not like NASA. However, a system has been introduced to allow researchers to continue their work. I hope we can develop our system in the NASA way so that women will have such an opportunity to continue their career as researchers.

Ebihara: As a human resources and management specialist, I can tell you that the Japanese significantly overestimate Western culture. In Europe and the U.S., most people remain at a low level for their entire career. Those who reach high positions must work really hard. A good work-life balance and speedy promotion are incompatible.

French society is divided into two categories: Workers are divided into “cadre” (elite) and “noncadre.” I have thoroughly researched this system and noncadre people work less than 1,400 hours a year, while cadre people work 1,970 hours a year. More than 80 percent of cadre women complain about insufficient time to spend with their families or for leisure.

They work extremely hard and do not take child care leave so they can pursue their careers. That is economically rational. But in Japan, some people argue everybody should be able to take child care leave and move up the corporate ladder.

In Western countries, career-oriented people make ¥15 million to ¥20 million, so a married couple earns about ¥30 million, outsourcing most of their housework to someone like a babysitter. In short, those opting to work hard outsource housework to climb the corporate ladder. Those who don’t can take a long maternity leave to achieve a better work-life balance. If everybody got both, it would hurt a company.

This is why Japanese companies tend to hesitate to hire women. The number of female university graduates increased after 2000, outnumbering those from two-year colleges for the first time since 1960. Companies see increased costs 10 years after they hire them because they leave for life events.

So the Japanese promotion system should be reviewed. If you want to build a career under the current situation, then you — whether male or female — must work tirelessly, without taking child care leave. If you take the other option and are willing to give up promotion, then you can take child care leave. So I think now is the time for Japanese society to start shifting to the either-or system.

Ryu: I know the French are hard workers as I have worked for a French company. I never saw my boss there working only 7½ hours a day. Even so, they have to do housework. How do they get around that? The problem in Japan is that women are stuck with the housework. I would say there can be no equality in society without equality at home.

That’s why I married a Canadian rather than a Japanese man. My husband was committed to allowing me to keep my freedom, saying, “While you are single, you are free, but if you marry me, you will be freer.” I would tell single women, “If you want to keep working, you should marry someone who believes in equality at home and who respects you.”

Ebihara: Exactly. Japanese men share the housework much less than, for example, French men do. And the data for Japanese men may even be an overestimate because they include picking up children or playing with them. That is not a part of housework.

In the U.S., there are many men who stay at a low rank for their entire career and take child care leave easily, while career-oriented men are only able to take a short paternity leave. In a corporate culture such as Japan’s — where everyone is promoted at the same pace — this could be problematic.

If a married couple works to make ¥5 to ¥6 million each, without seeking promotion, their household income is about ¥10 million. They should be happy with a good work-life balance. Such a situation is common in the U.S. But in Japan, the husband makes ¥9 million, while the wife makes ¥1 million.

Oki: NASA offers its employees two career paths — one to serve as managers and the other to pursue research work. But in Japan, men tend to conform to a stereotype of feeling they have to be promoted.

There are some good researchers who are unwilling to become managers. In that sense, our institute could be different from regular private companies. But for a woman to become a manager, she will have to work so hard.

Moderator: Is there any support for female managers who have to work so hard?

Ebihara: There are some Japanese companies where many people find their life partners within the company. Married women tend to take leave for various reasons. This makes her boss unhappy and he may ask her husband’s boss to let him take leave instead of his wife.

As a woman gets promoted, she and her husband should share the burden at home with each other.

Ryu: If a woman has a strong will to work, that could pave the way for her support. I would say to her: “Just go ahead. Don’t wait for a system to be established to support you.” The question is whether a woman is keen to continue working. At our company, when I asked a group of my female staff if they were interested in becoming president, none were. But men have ambition to head companies.

I think there are differences in vision between men and women. That’s probably because women have options for their lives, while men have no choice except to keep working. Men are just like salmon that swim upstream. That is, they base their actions on instinct and strength. Women have to create and manage places to live and work.

I changed my job to care for my husband before he died of cancer. I worked for four different companies before returning to Otsuka Pharmaceutical. I didn’t make my companies pay for my life event as I quit voluntarily. Anyway, I think if you have a strong desire to work, you can find a job.

Ebihara: At Shiseido, a Japanese cosmetic company, sales people were all men in the 1980s. But now, women account for nearly 40 percent of assistant managers and they are expected to represent more than 30 percent of middle managers within 10 years. A great number of such women at the company aim to become president.

There are two reasons for it. One is that women, whom people had been nice to until they graduated from college, have to take the same training path for their first three years at Shiseido as men do. That kind of system helps make women ambitious to move up the corporate ladder. At The Taiko Bank Ltd. (in Niigata Prefecture) for example, women take half of the managerial posts because they undergo rigorous training. Another reason is female role models. In the early days of females becoming corporate executives, superwomen are role models, a high hurdle for ordinary female workers. But in about 10 years, there will be an increasing number of “motherly types” of female superiors, making it easier for ordinary women to reach those jobs.

Moderator: Still, there are not many female science majors. Is that a disadvantage for Japan in terms of global competitiveness?

Ebihara: In India, good colleges set quotas for minority ethnic groups. A Japanese college could take a similar approach to women as affirmative action. We could say, “You could enter the engineering department of the University of Tokyo, but the literature department could be harder to enter.” Even a company could set a quota for female science majors. We should take an “upstream approach” to expand the number of female science majors.

Ryu: Female science majors could be needed in the information and communication technology (ICT) area in macroeconomic terms. That sector could be friendly to women and could potentially expand to contribute to the economy. There should be such a strategic approach to expand the number of female science majors to focus on certain areas such as ICT where women could use their potential expertise. For Otsuka Pharmaceutical, medical information is a necessity.

Moderator: I hope that women could use their own feminine wisdom in various areas such as research and development, technology or nursing to improve people’s lives.

Oki: If we want to continue to work on research for a long time, we probably can’t take long-term leave as the world changes fast. I only took one year of leave as I thought I shouldn’t take any more. The question is how can a capable researcher build up expertise in such a tough situation?

Ryu: We can’t know when a life event will happen. I was lucky to take child care leave after contributing to the development of the drinkable fiber “FIBE-MINI.” If you achieve something big, that can create a base for you and help you to continue to work. Even if you have to take leave for some reason, it could turn into a plus. There are ups and downs in life, so you should be flexible enough to accept changes in your life. I took leave to care for my husband, but that didn’t prove to be a disadvantage.

Hamaji: Companies should create a way to expand the liquidity of human resources. Not hiring competent midcareer workers allows lazy employees to get comfortable. A company that welcomes hard workers to management positions could encourage its employees to work harder.

Moderator: Today we discussed the necessity to have role models for women and diversity in careers as well as hiring midcareer workers, which should be more common at Japanese companies. Japan Inc. should continue to tackle many challenges to expansion. Thank you very much for discussing these issues today.

These pages have been produced with the support of the Ogasawara Foundation for the Promotion of Science and Engineering, which was founded by Toshiaki Ogasawara, the chairman and publisher of The Japan Times and the chairman of Nifco Inc.