Steven's Blog

The Anatomy of Misogyny

The other week, Tokyo Medical University was revealed to have been deliberately boosting entrance test scores of male students to give them an advantage and to limit the number of female students since 2006. The motivation? Women shorten or halt their careers after becoming mothers, exacerbating staff shortage problems at hospitals. There is no real evidence for this, but whatever.

Misogyny, like all other forms of hate, is always rationalized as being in some arbitrary best interest of the greater common good.

Not so infrequently, a non-Japanese company CEO here in Japan asks me about putting a woman into a significant position of leadership, such as vice president of sales or even successor to the CEO. Will her male staff and colleagues take her seriously? Will our customers take her seriously? How will it affect our business? I can only imagine what these CEOs have been told, read or heard from others.

Yet, I have not once in Japan ever witnessed the promotion of a competent woman, whether Japanese or non-Japanese, into a leadership position to cause problems for the business in any way simply because she is a woman, even in male-dominated industries or in putatively “conservative” companies.

I don’t care what other people might say.

Exclusion of women always results in a compromise of excellence. Click To Tweet

Tokyo Medical University has compromised the excellence of its entering classes in giving men a pass. If your doctor is a man who belongs to one of the graduating classes in question, you have no guarantee he was ever qualified to enter medical school in the first place. Also, I can tell you from experience that companies in Japan that are inclusive of women at all levels and in all areas, at least approaching women’s representation in the population, outperform their male-dominated peers. This is not to say that somehow women simply outperform men, but rather, like Tokyo Medical School, deliberately excluding women carries a cost. If the practice of deliberately excluding women from medical school is found to be widespread throughout Japan as some at the Ministry of Education now suspect, one has to wonder to what extent the quality of the practice of medicine in Japan has been compromised.

And what about businesses in Japan that have their own versions of excluding women? Many companies in Japan have some kind of initiatives with the aim of improving gender diversity. Yours might also be among these. However, even with such programs old attitudes can persist and result in the exclusion of women.

If you want to know if such attitudes toward women persist in your workplace, it is not maternity leave, rates of hiring, rates of promotion, percentages of women in leadership, number of support and outreach programs, or anything of the sort that you need to look at. These are all lagging indicators. Instead, start by asking people how they feel about paternity leave. Yes, that’s right. Attitudes toward and practices related to paternity leave in the workplace are the best indicators of attitudes towards women in any company in Japan.

Normative pressure is a powerful force. Even though Japanese paternity leave regulations are among the most generous in the world, with up to a year’s leave if desired, very few fathers take advantage of it. You might not even know of any fathers who have taken paternity leave, even though they might secretly want to. If paternity leave is viewed as a self-indulgent luxury that places an undue burden on your colleagues or may result in a penalty imposed by your boss to such an extent that fathers voluntarily forego the benefit, how might people feel about women in the workplace and the prospect of their maternity?

Do you want to change attitudes toward women? Start by changing attitudes and practices related to paternity leave.

And about those CEOs who ask me about putting women in positions of leadership, they never had any doubts. They had all already made their decision to do so when they asked me. It’s just that they wanted to know what they might be in for.

That’s easy. The only thing they are in for is excellence.

You can be, too.

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