The recent election in the United States offered as one of the candidates Hillary Rodman Clinton, the wife of a former president. Ms. Clinton was not on the ballot because of her having been the president’s spouse. She was there for the Democratic Party’s recognition that she was one of the best candidates her party could nominate. The other candidate was Barack Obama. In the world of politics she is not alone. India and Israel have both selected women as their leaders and a woman currently leads Germany. In a world where a country’s decisions and guidance can be life threatening to its total population this is a major recognition that, regardless of gender, the best person available is often selected to have the top position.

This does not similarly hold true in other aspects of life. Political success doesn’t necessarily bring along economic success or gender acceptance. In many fields and in most countries there is often an apparent prejudice against women having leadership positions or posts of great trust or even economic parity with men. According to a study by the United Nations women often experience a “glass ceiling” and that there are no societies in which women enjoy the same opportunities as men (Deen 1995).

The term “glass ceiling” was first used by A. M. Morrison in an article he wrote for the Wall Street Journal in 1987. He used it to describe a perceived barrier to advancement in employment based on discrimination, especially sex discrimination (Economist 2009). While women have embraced academic opportunity, and the numbers of women obtaining Ph.D.s in all fields has increased dramatically, their distribution within the managerial, economic or professional levels has not been commensurate with these women’s aspirations or accomplishments.

This situation exists world wide in every aspect of employment. In the United States, the Glass Ceiling Commission, a government appointed group to investigate discrimination against women in the labor pool stated: “Over half of all Master’s degrees are now awarded to women, yet 95% of senior-level managers, of the top Fortune 1000 industrial and 500 service companies are men” (Commission 1995).

Much of this discrepancy is attributed to physiological/biological differences between men and women as if women are not as capable as men in the tasks for which they are hired. While this might be true for certain and few occupations that require muscular strength it is more often a prejudicial bias against women. It is often a reflection of the belief that the only proper role for women is to care for children and manage the “hearth and home” while men bring home the “bacon and bread.” The Greek satirist Aristophanes and English legal philosopher John Stuart Mill both of whom thought women much the equal of men in thought and ability not withstanding, most men believed women incapable of creative productivity and originality.

As with the business or general economic world this has been equally seen in academia. The faculty and administrative ranks of colleges and universities have also demonstrated that women are not proportional to their availability in the labor pool nor are they recognized academically for their competence. This is seen at universities everywhere it has been investigated.

Matthew Clifford-Rashotte, in discussing the glass ceiling in Canadian universities wrote, “Today, more undergraduates, more graduate students, and more medical school graduates in Canada are female, but in the upper echelons of university representation, a major gender imbalance persists (Clifford-Rashotte 2009).” This is a truism seemingly around the world (Husu 2001; Majcher 2002; Smithers 2004). One study reported, “Forty percent of female respondents ranked gender discrimination first out of 11 possible choices for hindering their career in academic medicine. Thirty-five percent ranked gender discrimination second to either ‘limited time for professional work’ or ‘lack of mentoring’”(Carr, Szalacha et al. 2003). And gender discrimination seems to be especially so in Japan (French 2001). Despite many changes over the last decade when things started to improve in Japan, perhaps as a response to a lowered birth rate and large labor shortage, Japan remains a predominantly patriarchal society where men see women as primarily to be in an assisting capacity rather than in one of authority, responsibility and command.

Certain exceptions to the rule have surfaced. In the business world Sanyo Electric Co. hired a woman, Tomoyo Nonaka, as its CEO and chairwoman, making her the highest-profile female executive in Japan Inc., and former BMW Tokyo chief Fumiko Hayashi was appointed CEO and chairwoman at Daiei Inc. (Anonymous 2005). But such positions are rare and will surely test the waters for other women chief executives in Japan (French 2001).

According to Natsuko Fukue, a reporter for the Japan Times writing in November of 2009, Japan ranks 31st out of 35 countries in terms of the percentage of female board of directors, falling below the conservative countries of Jordan, Oman and Kuwait, and she reports there are only 17 women among 1,198 directors in large Japanese companies (Fukue 2009). She calls this discrimination against women a “bamboo ceiling.” This is especially discouraging since it had been found by Kathryn Bartol in a study conducted in 2003 that, among men as well as women, both female middle managers and female executives were rated higher than male counterparts not only regarding interpersonal management, but also in goals and task leader behaviors (Bartol 2003).

It had been hoped or expected that the glass ceiling would have especially been removed in academia. The university is where the leaders and change agents of society and the world are educated and professionally molded. Selecting and preparing these future citizens and leaders has historically relied on various methods. Foremost is that done on the basis of excellence as proven by testing along different endeavors and the examination of one’s ability to find new solutions to classical and standard problems. This is the universities’ discrimination of excellence and is widely held to be good and positive. Unfortunately, this has not happened. It seems that even in the university the old stereotypes of women as less competent and “not the equal of men” has held. This is bad and negative discrimination. While it might be tolerated and understood among laypersons, it is inappropriate for academia where higher expectations exist and higher standard are expected.

Things for women were supposed to have changed as a result of a new government sponsored equal opportunity employment law in 1986. The law, it was hoped, would offer women the chance to pursue professional careers as well as men. The law was controversial from the beginning since it divided females employees into ippanshoku, or general workers, who would accept the traditional role of non-professional Japanese working women, and sogoshoku, or career-track workers, who could aspire to promotion. There was never any question that men would be regarded as ippanshoku, so the feminists criticized the law from the start as condescending and discriminatory (McCarthy 1993).

But for many women throughout the country it was a welcome start and tens of thousands applied for the fast-track sogoshoku status. Now, more than two decades later, many of these women feel cruelly deceived, their careers blocked by invisible barriers of male prejudice and Japanese corporate and academic traditions.

Some of these traditions are associated with the fact that Japanese society is strongly homosocial, which means that men, especially those in positions of power or control, generally interact only with other men not only in regard to their professional activities but also after standard working hours. In considerations of hiring or job assignments they think of other men they interacted with, or know or heard of rather than of women. As co-equals they are more likely to think of another man rather than a woman. In many of their general every-day activities men of status interact considerably more with women that fall within the ippanshoku category than the sogoshoku group.

In regard to the hiring of women for jobs of responsibility and for promotion women are often passed over due to the belief that they would only be temporary or short time workers; staying on only until they get married or pregnant. But this is erroneous thinking according to Hiromi Harada, a leader of the “Association of Female Students against Job Discrimination.” Ms. Harada has said, “Our poll shows that between 70 and 80 percent of women want to continue to work until retirement age, … Moreover, very few women say they want to quit when they have a child. That many women quit when they have children because of the cost of day care. And if we want to change this, we should take measures to make day care more common and more affordable” (French 2001).

Is there any justification for this type of gender discrimination and glass ceiling? I don’t think so and my reasoning is the same today for this issue as it was several years ago when I was contacted about my beliefs about gender differences (Diamond 2006). In 2005 and 2006 I had been contacted by reporters from The Asahi Shinbun and Tokyo Shinbun and by various educators from Tokyo and Kobe. They questioned me about some of my research on gender. At that time there was specific focus on what I thought were the implications of the John/Joan case for the status of women compared with that of men. My response at that time seems appropriate now as well. A specific concern was how I saw normal sexual development occur and how government and cultural institutions from businesses to social organizations should adapt to these realities. Now I turn my attention to the specific plight of women and discrimination in educational institutions but believe these ideas should hold in all disciplines, occupations and professions.

In the academy, in business, in politics and even in the family, I believe that regardless of gender every individual should be evaluated and positioned on his or her merits regarding the task under consideration. And each person should be allowed to demonstrate that ability to the full extent possible. In some cases it will be a man who is best for the task or position and sometimes it will be a women. Some men would undoubtedly be better than women in many tasks traditionally seen as female and some women would, without doubt, be better than men in occupations viewed as male. These evaluations should not be made in the form of competition but as recognition for adjusting the best persons for their best utilization leading to maximizing opportunity and success.

In the university specifically the following 10 recommendations are offered:

Leadership must take steps to

  1. recruit the best person for each position in every department regardless of gender. Search committees should contain female as well as male members.
  2. reduce excessive burdens placed upon women that are not given to men or change and equalize the reward structure to acknowledge the importance of these contributions to the institution.
  3. ensure that standards are equitably applied and that there is sufficient protection within the evaluation process to prevent taint by unconscious bias or intentional discrimination.
  4. make department chairs, and other decision-makers accountable for creating an environment conducive to achieving gender equity and diversity.
  5. make appropriate recommendations for professional mentoring women as well as men.
  6. create effective mechanisms for women to voice their dissatisfaction and commit resources to make changes that will create a more welcoming environment for women.
  7. establish transparent promotion and tenure requirements that are applicable for all.
  8. recognize and reward the accomplishments of men and women equally.
  9. include women in informal as well as formal departmental meetings of all types.
  10. better the understanding that these actions are not seen as a movement of women against men but a movement for basic human rights that would benefit both sexes.

Having the best person in each position would not only maximize the human potential and increase the university as a national and world wide resource but would show the university as exemplifying the high ideals of human rights and social equality. This could only better the nation and increase Japan’s standing in international comparisons.


Anonymous (2005). “Japan: The Glass Ceiling Stays Put.” Business Week. Retrieved at

Bartol, K. M. (2003). “Leadership and the Glass Ceiling: Gender and Ethnic Group Influences on Leader Behaviors at Middle and Executive Managerial Levels.” Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies 9(3): 8-19.

Carr, P. l., L. Szalacha, et al. (2003). “A ‘Ton of Feathers’: Gender Discrimination in Academic Medical Careers and How to Manage It .” Journal Of Women's Health 12(10): 1009-1018.

Clifford-Rashotte, M. (2009). “Glass ceiling cracked but unbroken.” The Strand. Retrieved at

Commission, U. S. Glass Ceiling Commission (1995). “A Solid Investment: Making Full Use of the Nation's Human Capital.” Key Workplace Documents: Federal Publications (Cornell University ILR School). Ithica, N.Y., Cornell University ILR School.

Deen, T. (1995). “United Nations: Glass Ceiling Still Keeps Women From Top Jobs.” Inter Press Service English News Wire. Retrieved at

Diamond, M. (2006). “Traditionalist vs. Feminists in Contemporary Japanese Culture: Nature vs. Nurture vs. Interaction and Social Implications.” JASE (Japanese Association of Sex Educators) Journal 24(1): 1-5.

Economist (2009). “The Glass Ceiling.” Lab Manager (From The Economist print edition). Retrieved at

French, H. W. ( 2001). “Diploma at Hand, Japanese Women Find Glass Ceiling Reinforced With Iron.” The New York Times New York. 1 Jan. 2001. Retrieved at

Fukue, N. (2009). “Japanese women still hitting a glass and bamboo ceiling in the boardroom.” The Japan Times: Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2009. Tokyo. Retrieved at

Husu, L. (2001). “Sexism, Support and Survival in Academia.” NIKK: Nordic Gender Institute 3. Retrieved at;action=Article.publicShow;ID=421

Majcher, A. (2002). "Gender Inequality in German Academia and Strategies for Change.” German Policy Studies (2). Retrieved at

McCarthy, T. (1993). “Out of Japan: Good intentions hit the glass ceiling.” The Independent. 19 April 1993. Retrieved at

Smithers, R. (2004). “More women move into academia despite the glass ceiling.” 1 October 2004. Retrieved at


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