Fostering Creativity through Diversity
By Peter Gruss
A 2014 report in Scientific American stated that “Decades of research by organizational scientists, psychologists, sociologists, economists and demographers show that socially diverse groups (that is, those with a diversity of race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation) are more innovative than homogeneous groups.” This message has been recognized by governments, universities and industries around the globe, with many implementing diversity and inclusion policies to this end. And these efforts have measured financial rewards: a 2015 McKinsey study found that companies in the top quartile for racial/ethnic diversity and/or gender equality were more likely to outperform the industry median.
The underrepresentation of women in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) is a ubiquitous problem. Countries around the globe struggle with the “leaky pipeline”: the phenomenon in which the proportion of women declines when tracking career progression from college major to university professor in STEM. Despite this being a global problem, Japan has particularly struggled with this issue. The OECD’s “Science and Engineering Indicators 2016” rank Japan last compared to other OECD countries in terms of the proportion of female researchers. Despite this, an Elsevier report “Gender in the Global Research Landscape” indicated that female researchers outperform their male counterparts in Japan in average number of papers published.
What are some of the factors that contribute to the “leaky pipeline”? One answer is that unconscious bias prevents women from advancing in their careers. A recent article in Nature highlights this phenomenon, stating that “male research leaders worry that hiring females may disadvantage their team in competition publications and funding grants”. In 2008, the German Research Foundation (DFG) established the “Research-Oriented Standards on Gender Equality”. As part of this, DFG-member organizations made a voluntary commitment to promote gender equality through the creation of structural equality and personnel-related standards. Japanese scientific institutes and organizations have also been working to remedy the situation for women. In 2013, JST established the Office of Diversity and Inclusion to support women in their careers and Kyushu University hosted its 1st Diversity Symposium for Women Scientists in February of this year.
Another answer lies in the culture: in many cultures, including Japanese, women are expected to be the primary caregivers to children. Finding an appropriate work-life balance is a struggle that many people face. Companies and organizations can support families by offering on-site childcare, establishing generous parental leave policies, providing childcare support for conferences, and allowing flexible work schedules. Employers should be obligated to provide a work environment that allows for work-life balance.
At OIST, our Vice President for Gender Equality and Human Resources oversees a variety of policies and events that promote diversity, such as appointing a diversity officer to serve on faculty search committees and organizing a Gender Summit satellite conference on campus. However, diversity is not limited to gender equality. We also strive to cultivate an international, multicultural environment that is welcoming to all regardless of race, gender, nationality, sexual orientation or ability. Towards this goal, one of OIST’s central concepts is to recruit half of our faculty and students from overseas.
Multiple studies have linked diversity with creativity and innovation. However, meeting diversity quotas is not enough to enhance innovation. Inclusion must be an integral part of the work culture in order to fully reap the benefits of diversity. The Royal Society said it best: “A diverse and inclusive scientific workforce draws from the widest range of backgrounds, perspectives and experiences thereby maximising innovation and creativity in science for the benefit of humanity.”
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