I live in a world where most people accept the fact that women are as talented, as intelligent, as capable as men; that gender has no monopoly on talent and that gender diversity is a good thing. I live in a world where people not only believe that is true, but they actively work to recruit the best and brightest individuals, without regard to gender.

It’s been proven so many times over that gender-diverse organizations thrive. There’s evidence that organizations with women in senior leadership roles often perform better financially and have generally superior business results. Data in McKinsey’s 2018 report, “Delivering Through Diversity” confirms their earlier research that “Gender diversity is correlated with both profitability and value creation.” They found “… a positive correlation between gender diversity on executive teams and both our measures of financial performance… and longer term value creation.”

And while the #MeToo Movement exposes the fact that the gender-diverse world I live in is not a universal experience, it’s also a powerful force for change that is nudging reality more toward gender equality.

Yet I was still surprised to read in a recent New York Times International Edition (11-25-19) that Japanese women are reluctant to attend Todai (University of Tokyo), which is Japan’s premier academic institution. Today, only 20% of the student body are women. Women are told—and many still believe—that they will ruin their chances at marriage if they get a degree at Todai because they will intimidate their potential marriage partners with such academic success. Indeed, many girls believe that academic achievement is not feminine.

I lived in Japan many years ago so I’m quite aware of the deeply rooted cultural norms that led to such profound gender disparity. Then, it was expected that women would stop working when they got married. Certainly the idea of a working mother was profoundly looked down upon. Nonetheless, I was dumbstruck when I read the Times article. Gender roles in the world have evolved so much since that time; hasn’t Japanese culture begun to adapt?

At about the same time there were two other journalistic pieces whose titles alone underscore the gender equality issues in Japan. “Japanese Women Are Fighting for the Right to Wear Glasses to the Office” (Fortune, November 8) and “Women in Japan Fight Expectation to Wear High Heels with #KuToo Movement” (CBS News November 9).

After thinking about Japan’s gender diversity issues for some time in the context of RW3 CultureWizard’s dimensions, I had a small cultural insight. I realized that Japanese culture tends to be very risk averse, which likely is a major force slowing down change in gender diversity. A risk-averse culture like Japan’s will take a long time to change traditions that have become embedded so deeply. It will change in microscopic steps.

It remains my hope, however, that enough change will happen quickly so that at least Japanese women won’t have to live in fear of success. That the increasingly global nature of human communications will help accelerate challenges to the “normalcy” of cultural traditions that may have outlived their usefulness—especially when it comes to gender diversity/disparity.

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