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Analysing and stemming the leaky pipeline of female researchers at UTokyo

Last updated: 1 August 2020

This page summarises the key findings from our one-year R&D initiative in 2019-2020.



The University of Tokyo (UT) is making strong efforts to promote gender equality (GE), and strives to empower all members of its academic community. Promising efforts to support women's academic career development include the UTokyo Vision 2020 “Fostering Diversity” initiative[1] and the UTokyo Future Society Initiative[2].Although the proportion of women is increasing, it remains low (19.6% of undergraduates as of 2019)[3], and change is especially slow among faculty (18% of lecturers and assistant professors, 11% of associate professors, 7.6% of full professors) [3,4].

Country-level statistics (Fig.1) show that gender equality among the teaching body is a systemic issue in Japanese universities. Even so, a comparison with other leading institutions (Fig.2) suggests there is room for improvement at UT. 


Figure 1. Ratio of female teachers in tertiary education by country (source: OECD, 2020)


Figure 2. Ratio of female full professors in major Japanese universities (source: webpage of each university, 2019)

Previous research has shown that cohort effects alone cannot explain the reducing ratio of female researchers along the academic hierarchy (or "leaky pipeline") at UT[5,6].



Building on this research, our project aimed to:

(1) Understand the causes of the leaky pipeline of female researchers at our university;

(2) Develop and promote implementation of solutions to improve the situation.  


Our approach consisted of three steps.


Step 1:

Background research on GE in Japan and abroad.


Step 2:

A total of 8 interviews of female and male members of the UTokyo research community, from student to full-professor level, were conducted, focusing on the following two questions:

(1) What are the factors that prevent female researchers from gaining employment and promotion in academia?
(2) What can be done to improve the current situation?

The interviews included sharing of personal experiences, for example relating to child care and elderly care, as well as conflicts and obstacles for career development that resulted from this.


Step 3:

Feedback to executive stakeholders at UT.


Based on our interviews, the five main causes of the leaky pipeline at UT are (in order of importance):


We presented our findings to executive stakeholders at the University of Tokyo, including the director of the UT Office for Gender Equality. The constructive feedback we received enabled us to develop proposals to improve the situation. We humbly delivered the following five recommendations, accompanied by a 10-page report on our initiative, to President Gonokami:

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