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Advancing gender diversity in research: A conversation with Dr Miyoko O Watanabe

20 de junio de 2024

Por Stacey Tobin, PhD

Miyoko O Watanabe, PhD, is standing Trustee of Nihon University and a member of Elsevier’s I&D Advisory Board. 

Miyoko O Watanabe, PhD, is standing Trustee of Nihon University and a member of Elsevier’s I&D Advisory Board. 

Japan S&T leader calls for greater diversity in research and policymaking and an evolution of academic evaluation metrics

Progress Toward Gender Equality in Research & Innovationse abre en una nueva pestaña/ventana is Elsevier’s latest and most comprehensive analytics report mapping the advances and persistent challenges experienced by women researchers across two decades and 20 countries and regions. It aims to provide academic leaders, funders and policymakers with significant new data on the progress and ongoing disparities in the research ecosystem and inform evidence-based actions that will support continued progress toward gender equity. The report and accompanying Gender Dashboard offer valuable intersectional insights into women’s contributions to the global research ecosystem, reveal the pressing need for the evolution of traditional academic evaluation metrics, and emphasize the continuing imperative for greater inclusiveness in the research workforce.

Cover of Elsevier's 2024 report Progress Toward Gender Equality in Research & Innovation

Academic leaders like Dr Miyoko O Watanabe ask pivotal questions about how research institutions can better facilitate constructive dialogue and progress in gender diversity and equality. As a member of Elsevier’s I&D Advisory Board, the standing Trustee of Nihon University, the CEO of NPO Wood Deck and the former Executive Director of the Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST)se abre en una nueva pestaña/ventana and Chair of the 2017 Gender Summit 10 Asia-Pacificse abre en una nueva pestaña/ventana, Dr Watanabe offers a unique perspective on the conversation surrounding gender parity in research. Her insights on the latest Elsevier report are both enlightening and thought-provoking.

A shifting focus for science

Dr Watanabe noted that “society is changing rapidly across the world, and science will need to grasp these changes to make contributions through evidence-based policy.” She said it’s critical that women, and especially young people, are represented, with greater diversity not only within the scientific workforce but also among policymakers.

“In the past, science contributed to industrialization, mainly by men, with primarily economic benefits,” she said. “Now, science that contributes to society as a whole is needed.”

The report’s finding that women are largely driving research related to the UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDGs) was particularly notable. She suggested that progress on the SDGs and the contribution of women to SDG-related research will need to be analyzed carefully as future goals are set.

Working together regardless of gender parity

Dr Watanabe found that the report shows greater progress toward gender parity in Western countries than in Japan and Korea. While research is needed to understand the reasons for these trends, she maintained that “diversity and collaboration among men and women are as important as attaining a 50:50 gender ratio” in research.

Dr Watanabe expanded on the importance of diversity in mentorship in academia. “Individuals who are pursuing a career in science rely on their direct personal experiences with peers and mentors," she explained. The report suggested that women tend to seek out other women mentors; however, Dr Watanabe encouraged young researchers to seek guidance from a diverse range of individuals, not necessarily just those who represent their future selves.

Innovation through diversity

Dr Watanabe pointed to the report’s finding of a gender gap in patent filings as another area of improvement, where diverse teams would not only address equality but also spur innovation: “Rather than gathering like-minded people into teams, researchers and decision-makers should strive to form and work in mixed-gender groups,” this as a way to broaden the pool of inputs and ideas, which are a source of innovation. Furthermore, rather than look at gender alone, age and even geographic region should be considered when building diverse teams,” Dr Watanabe added.

Re-evaluating the evaluation criteria

As science shifts its focus to address broad societal challenges, Dr Watanabe explained, it will be important to reconsider the criteria used to evaluate the research being conducted. She appreciated the analysis of both traditional and new measures of research impact in the report:

Academia must move beyond the current evaluation criteria to new perspectives being created — to incorporate more complex elements that reflect the diversity of society and its challenges. The axis of evaluation should be shifted to include multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary research, for example.

Again, she noted, an emphasis on diverse teams where inclusion is valued may be as important a goal as gender parity.

Learning from global partners

Finally, Dr Watanabe noted the value of the report as a resource for understanding and learning from different academic systems worldwide, particularly in the Global South, which has seen success in achieving gender parity in various areas.

“Within the Global South, it’s not only the developed countries — South Africa, India and Egypt — that are leading the world, but also smaller countries,” she pointed out. “In a real sense, it shows that we need to think more deeply about where we should look for new ideas.”

Dr Watanabe said she looks forward to learning more about the strategies and policies that have been put in place that have enabled these countries to do things a little bit differently to advance gender equality.


In conclusion, Dr Watanabe underscored the importance of advancing gender equity, diversity and inclusion in scientific research to address a shifting landscape of global societal challenges. She called for greater diversity in both scientific teams and among policymakers, and a shift in the evaluation criteria used in academia to better reflect the complexity of research questions. Her comments provide valuable guidance for policymakers, universities and research institutions seeking to advance gender equality in research and drive innovation.


Stacey Tobin, PhD


Stacey Tobin, PhD

Biomedical Writer and Editor

The Tobin Touch

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