Addressing the ‘soft’ factors in overcoming gender inequality in the workplace

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A major problem in Japan and other developed countries is how gender equality ‘on paper’ often veils a far more entrenched set of issues hindering progress in the challenge to overcome gender inequality in the workplace. These are post-legal equality issues: ‘soft’ factors, including cultural attitudes and institutional conservatism–factors which serve to perpetuate gender inequality in the workplace. Aside from constituting a social issue, the inability to incorporate women in the workplace exerts a severely negative effect on economic performance as a large portion of women’s potential is left unused. This is a problem especially for Japan, an economy which is already limping with a shrinking and ageing population.

The recognition of ‘soft’ factors as an obstacle to gender equality in the workplace goes hand in hand with the idea that enabling women’s participation should be addressed proactively, rather than just neutrally. This contention is also expressed in a report co-authored by the World Economic Forum and McKinsey published last year on how to close the gender gap in Japan, which includes suggestions on mentoring, training and leadership programs as possible “soft interventions.” Another set of examples are given in a a recent World Economic Forum post, where Ernst & Young CEO Mark Weinberger suggests proactive initiatives including reaching out to women, creating a culture of inclusion and considering how women’s potential can be enabled at all levels of the organization.

Obama weighs in on the free speech debate

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During the past year, which has seen a series of controversies in the United States over the bounds of free speech, Barack Obama has at several times weighted in on the debate by championing a decidedly pro-free speech stance. This move is welcomed by many, including myself, especially considering Obama’s mass appeal and role model status in the United States today.

See NPR’s Steve Inskeep interview with Obama on this topic at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) website.

The Yale controversy and free speech

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As a response to the recent controversy at Yale, a group of faculty members have signed an open letter defending Erika and Nicholas Christakis and their right to free speech. The letter, authored by Douglas Stone of the university’s physics department, testifies to the alarming ideological polarization occurring on college campuses over the status of freedom of expression, and to what extent its suppression is justified for assumed social equality gains. Those arguing in favor of its limitation are often susceptible to a dichotomization of the issues at hand, painting them as a single dimension of progress versus regress in the social equality challenges the United States faces today, something I previously discussed in an op-ed I wrote for the Daily Pennsylvanian earlier this year. Here, Erika Christakis’ innocuous argument in opposition to the college administration interfering in student affairs has thus been distorted into a harmful act and an obstacle to progress, simply due to how it does not immediately amount to what some students believed to have been an appropriate, or even the single right, response to the situation.

This neglect of the core issues at stake, and rash adoption of an us-versus-them mindset, is a threat to the discourse necessary to find actual progress in social equality issues on college campuses and in the United States.

Randall Kennedy on the black tape controversy

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Harvard Law professor Randall Kennedy, in an op-ed in the New York Times, makes a succinct and commendable comment on the recent black tape controversy. A welcome voice of reason in what has recently amounted to a quite disoriented discourse on racial issues.

Lessons from Japan: China and Korea

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Recently, two interesting op-ed pieces were published comparing the economic difficulties faced by Japan following the early 1990s and the current situations of China and South Korea. The Japan case, including the ‘Lost Decades’ and still lingering economic challenges, can provide crucial lessons for the two East Asian rapid growth manufacturing economies which, like Japan has, face prospects of a difficult to pull off, but necessary, transition to a different type of economy.

The comparison with China, by Columbia’s Jeff Sachs, can be found here, while the Korea comparison, by Korea University’s Lee Jong-Wha can be found here.

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