Asia-Pacific Gender Summit aims to boost innovation in research through diversity

Tokyo event brought together 600 people from industry, academia and government to advance gender equality in science and society

Panelists in the closing plenary session (from left to right): Clare Walsh (Australian Embassy), Maryse Lassonde (Royal Society of Canada, Quebec Natural Sciences and Technology Granting Agency), Christine Stockins (Embassy of Chile), Elizabeth Pollitzer (Portia Ltd), Kumie Inose (Science Council of Japan, Konan University), Miyoko O. Watanabe (Japan Science and Technology Agency). (Photo courtesy of Portia Ltd)

Editor’s note: This month, Elsevier Connect is exploring “how science can build a sustainable future.” In fact, gender diversity is key to sustainability and the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals . Here, technology writer Alice Atkinson-Bonasio highlights the key discussions and goals that came out of the recent Gender Summit.

Despite strides being made globally to achieve gender balance in research – as evidenced in the report published by Elsevier in March – many issues persist that severely hamper innovation and socioeconomic development. The 10th edition of the Gender Summit (GS10), which took place in Tokyo on May 25-26, brought together more than 600 stakeholders from 150 organizations, 85 from Japan, to discuss which further steps and solutions to pursue in the continuing endeavor to achieve gender equality in science.

In his welcome address, conference organizer Dr. Michinari Hamaguchi, President of the Japan  Science and Technology Agency (JST), said the summit was a valuable platform for dialogue among stakeholders from academia, government, industry and civil society to share ideas and discover solutions to gender issues that will enrich our lives, enhance wellbeing and support research and innovation.

Dr. Miyoko O. Watanabe, Deputy Executive Director of JST, said unequivocally that “gender equality is an essential determinant of societal sustainability and wellbeing,” adding that she was glad to see a gradual shift in attitude from perceiving this as “a problem of women, by women and for women” to one that affects everyone:

When I started my activities on gender equality around 2000, only some men helped us to promote women, and this was not widely accepted in our society. Nowadays, many men think gender equality is an essential problem for themselves as well as society. This is particularly true of younger men. It is much easier for us to promote it now together with this younger generation.

Much of the summit’s focus was on meeting the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agenda. Yet while SDG 5 specifically sets the target to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls, the recommendations of the summit explicitly emphasized that gender equality is in fact integral to producing effective solutions to both national and global challenges, and as such are intrinsically linked to the achievement of all 17 SDGs. Gender equality should not, therefore, be treated as a separate issue to be extricated from its broader context.

In sum, the conference recognized the essential role that gender equality plays as a determinant of societal sustainability and wellbeing, which affects how science, technology and innovation can improve people’s lives.

Gender Equality 2.0

More than 600 people from around the world attended the Gender Summit 10 Asia-Pacific. (Photo courtesy of Portia Ltd.)

That holistic and contextualized approach to this challenge was a recurring theme at the event. GS10 attendees were introduced to the concept of “Gender Equality 2.0,” which recognizes that in tackling gender inequality issues, contextual factors such as age, sex, social position, economic status, education, ethnicity, race and ability must be taken into account to ensure the most appropriate and effective course of action is chosen.

Prof. Teruo Kishi, Science and Technology Advisor to Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, admitted that his country had much work to do, as it currently ranked 111th in the Global Gender Gap Index (GGI), published by the World Economic Forum. He was keen to point out, however, that increasing the number of female researchers had become a core issue for his government.

While Dr. Watanabe agreed that in general, countries in Asia do not perform well in the GGI, she pointed out that it is important to look at the broader picture and take into account the local cultural context. “Japan as well as other industrialized countries in Asia are lagging behind many European countries in the standard made by Europe and America,” she explained. “However, the contributions made by women scientists and engineers in Asia are key to solving fatal societal problems in the region such as poverty and hunger. We should promote an Asian perspective with diversity in order to solve the problems of SDGs, which will in turn have a positive global impact.”

The rising role of data

Dr. Anders Karlsson, Elsevier’s VP of Global Strategic Networks, Asia Pacific, said there was a broad emerging understanding in both industry and academia that diversity and gender equality support better decisions and lead to better outcomes. He went on to explain how Elsevier’s Gender in the Global Research Landscape report introduced a new methodology that allows them to look at many countries in a scalable way:

If you want to act, it’s good to have the data, and we want to act. Elsevier is an information analytics company which publishes 20 percent of all science papers, so we have a duty to ensure that we have good policies in terms of editors and reviewers and good policies.

Gender Summit “architect” Dr. Elizabeth Pollitzer said Elsevier’s gender report was an important step in promoting awareness of the importance of gender issues and gender research.

Dr. Watanabe also sees data as a crucial part of the solution, saying it is important to show data when we address such problems and look for ways to solve them: “Explanations backed up with credible data have much more impact and help our understanding of how serious the problems are, and how they can be solved. We can discuss the problems more scientifically in an objective manner without exaggeration and without omission.”

One example of how this can work in practice is in shifting the tide of female participation in industry R&D. Dr. Watanabe said it has been shown that mixed teams are more productive in terms of research papers and patents, suggesting that collaboration between women and men can create more innovation, which often translates into higher profits for companies. Her suggestion: “Show more data and best practices of collaboration between women and men to the decision-makers in the industry.”

This sentiment was echoed by business leaders. As Seema Kumar, VP of Innovation, Global Health, and Policy Communication for Johnson & Johnson, proclaimed in her video message, “Diversity is not just the right thing to do – it’s a must do.”

Overcoming obstacles and realizing “the potential to innovate”

Elsevier has been supporting the Gender Summit from the start. Dr. Karlsson said he found some of the Tokyo summit talks particularly relevant and inspirational to the work Elsevier does in supporting accessibility and diversity. The talk by IBM Research Fellow Dr. Chieko Asakawa “made a strong impression on me,” he said. “How she had pioneered work on accessibility, partly stemming from her determination having lost her eyesight to live a normal life. That was just beautiful.”

Watch Dr. Asakawa’s TED Talk here:

As HRH Princess Sumaya bint El Hassan of Jordan said in her keynote: “Science is in women, and the potential to innovate is within our girls.” It’s therefore up to stakeholders across industry, governments and academia to ensure that they do have the chance to fulfill that potential and provide their much-needed contribution to tackling the global challenges we face.

Gender Innovations project

Prof. Londa Schiebinger, PhDProf. Londa Schiebinger, Director of the Gendered Innovations in Science, Health & Medicine, Engineering, and Environment project at Stanford University, chaired an interesting session that looked at how moving beyond the traditional binary notions of masculinity and femininity can help foster more innovative research. She described a new collaborative project called Gender Innovations, which brings together 80 scientists and engineers with gender experts in a series of collaborative workshops to look at gender variables in research. “The operative question is: Can we harness the creative power of sex and gender analysis for discovery, does considering gender add a valuable dimension to research, does it take research in a new direction?”

Further results from these initial investigations are expected in June.

Summit reflections

Emilie Marcus, PhDFollowing the summit, Dr. Emilie Marcus, CEO of Elsevier’s Cell Press and Editor-in-Chief of Cell, reflected on what needs to happen to achieve gender equality:

It is at the same time heartening and daunting to look at the trajectory of global gender equity over the past decades. While a lot has been accomplished particularly with respect to a global focus on the societal, economic and moral imperative of gender equity and the importance of robust data and data-driven policies, there is still so much more that needs to happen, and it is hard to see what will really move the needle. Achieving gender equity will require a cultural shift towards supporting equal life and career choices and opportunities for both men and women. It is not just about creating opportunities for women to do what men do but also the other way around. Otherwise there will always be an imbalance. Without steps toward such a fundamental cultural shift, even the best policies and efforts will struggle to succeed. It has been very interesting from this perspective to attend global Gender Summits in both Europe and Asia and to begin to think about how to move forward globally building on the richness of existing cultural diversity.

BRIDGE recommendations

Organizers, speakers and delegates pose for a group picture at the end of the event. (Photo courtesy of Gender Summit 10)

The GS10 produced a set of recommendations prepared by a large and diverse group of international collaborative stakeholders. These will be followed by a more comprehensive and detailed report due to be published in the coming months, yet the BRIDGE (Better Research and Innovation through Diversity and Gender Equality) outline the following parameters that should guide further action:

  1. Gender equality is an essential determinant of societal sustainability and wellbeing and affects how science, technology and innovation can improve people’s lives. It is realized through interventions to create equal opportunities between women and men; and implementing scientific understanding of gender, and of related differences, as important and intersecting factors in creating societal benefits for all.
  2. Gender equality should be integrated into the implementation of all 17 SDGs, because gender equality within science, technology and innovation provides a BRIDGE through which targets of all 17 SDGs can be connected to enhance implementation success of the UN SDG agenda.
  3. Gender equality in the context of SDG targets must recognize the influence of human and societal diversities, and, in particular, how science and societies define and BRIDGE the roles and attitudes to women, girls, men, boys, ethnicity, race, cultures etc. Gender Equality 2.0 should be adopted by all stakeholders, including industry when planning and implementing actions to achieve sustainability.

European focus

Wolfgang Burtscher, Deputy Director-General of the European Commission, described how Horizon 2020 – one of the world’s largest cross-border research initiatives, is working hard to incorporate the gender dimension into its own goals, looking at ways, for example, in which public funders can incentivize researchers to consider gender dimensions in their work. This issue was discussed in a recent symposium on the subject hosted by Elsevier in Brussels.

How science can build a sustainable future

This month, we are exploring “how science can build a sustainable future” – revealing opportunities we may not have considered. At Elsevier, we understand the power of bringing different perspectives together to fuel new approaches to global problems. That’s why we support initiatives like the Gender Summit along with diversity and inclusion in our own workplace. And why we provide the data and analytics needed to track trends and developments in gender science.

Ludivine Allagnat, Senior Academic Relations Manager in Elsevier’s Tokyo office, contributed to this report.


Written by

Alice Atkinson-Bonasio

Written by

Alice Atkinson-Bonasio

Alice Atkinson-Bonasio is a technology writer with a particular interest in how digital technologies affect the education and scholarly research landscape. She has a master’s degree in Creative and Media Enterprises from the University of Warwick and regularly contributes to publications such as The Next Web, Wired, Ars Technica, Times Higher Education (THE) and Fast Company.


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