Posted: 10 Feb. 2022 5 min. read

What is "Rikejo"? - On International Day of Women and Girls in Science

Series : Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

*This is an English translation of the D-NNOVATION article issued by Deloitte Tohmatsu Group on February 10, 2022. If there is any discrepancy between the Japanese version and the English translation, the Japanese version shall prevail.


The presence of “Rikejo” not so high compared to the term itself

"Rikejo" is an abbreviated term to describe women/girls in STEM.

This term first appeared in the media around 2010 and more than a decade has passed since then. Although the word "Rikejo" has become popular, the number of women in STEM are still low. In A 2021 study report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Japan is ranked last among 36 OECD countries in the percentage of female students majoring in sciences/engineering. For example, the percentage of female students majoring in sciences at higher education institutions is nearly half of the average; Japan at 27%, and an average among 36 countries at 52%.

Japan has the lowest percentage of female students majoring in natural science and engineering among OECD member countries

Are girls not good at science and mathematics compared to boys? Of course, that is not true. A research of academic ability of elementary, junior high and high school students in science and mathematics shows that there is no significant difference between boys and girls. So why are there less girls who choose science and mathematics courses compared to boys? There could be multiple reasons, but many studies point to the state of gender at home and in society, as well as the influence that teachers have on students.


Influence from Adults ~ "She's a girl, but she's amazing!"~

For example, a survey commissioned by the Cabinet Office found that female students whose female guardians’ final educational background in STEM are 20% more likely to choose science/mathematics courses. (In Japan, during high school, students choose or “Bun-kei (liberal arts)” or “Ri-kei” (science/mathematics) courses depending on their expected major at college.) In addition, a survey found that the percentage of female students who chose science/mathematics as their major was 11% higher when at least one female teacher was present compared to when all teachers were male.

One of the more widespread influences by adults, not just parents or teachers, is what's called "favorable discrimination". For example, have you ever heard someone say, "It's amazing that she's good at science and mathematics even though she's a girl!"? This happens because there is an underlying stereotypical belief that "women are not good at science and mathematics." Such statements can be positive for people who perceive themselves stereotypically, but they often act negatively. For example, a research has shown that when a person scores high on a test and is praised as "Good job even though you are a girl", her motivation to learn lowers compared to when she is simply told "Good job!" Willingness to score higher on an exam, which is supposed to be high, can be damaged by saying, "for a girl". 


Issues caused by lack of women in technology

When various factors combine to create gender bias, it becomes more difficult for girls to pursue  STEM career. However, as touched in our blog on Panel Promise, one of our initiatives, not having diverse members may create blind spots and become a major risk factor. This is also true in the field of technology. For example, "Effects of an accident to women, including pregnant ones NOT predicted enough because the dummy dolls used in the car crash testing were modeled after a man's body", "AI repelling women since men was set as the standard in the developmental phases (Facial recognition not being accurate, search and translation results based on men as standard…)" etc. Those examples are frequently found in many organizations, including large corporations around the world. The absence of women in STEM is an obvious risk.

“Women in Tech” as succession planning

Deloitte Tohmatsu Group launched the “Women in Tech” initiative since 2021 to promote the use of digital and technologies that are changing our lifestyles and businesses, and to support women in those fields. 

“Women in Tech” was launched to support women at every stage of their careers, from students to professionals, to expand the reach of technology into the world, and is working to shape unique and innovative ideas.

In particular, we are focusing on empowering female students. In addition to events such as “Future Workshop” to discuss open-minded vision of the future, we plan and hold lectures and seminars on solving social issues, panel discussions with female leaders active in the technology field, and hands-on sessions (developing Chatbot, sensory programming, etc.) in which students can experience technology, and provide opportunities to experience the world of digital and technology. From the female students who participated in the program, we often receive positive feedback including being impressed by the latest technology, and high level of enthusiasm, such as "I realized that technology had something to do with the social issues I wanted to solve in the future, and I became interested in the technology career path." and "I want to try something unique by combining IT with what I want to do." We are thrilled to see the changes in the female students. And at these events, there is no “even though she's a girl!" moments, so everyone can enjoy technology and connect to their diverse future.


Goodbye, "Rikejo"! ~ Until that day the word "Rikejo" is no longer used ~

The "Rikejo" (Women/girls in STEM) mentioned at the beginning is a form of emphasis when something is out of “default” or different from its original assumption, which is sensitive and may even lead to microaggression/discrimination. Examples include female doctors, female writers, and working mothers. It often represents a woman, but sometimes a man, such as male nurse and “ikumen” -Japanese word for “fathers who takes part in childcare”.

February 11 is the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, which was established by the United Nations General Assembly in 2015 to recognize and appreciate the important role women and girls play in science and technology, and to promote opportunities for women and girls to have full and equal access to and participation in science. In the future, when women are as likely as men to be active in science, the word "Rikejo" will disappear. Deloitte Tohmatsu Group will continue to empower “Women in Tech” initiatives in order to support many women and girls who aspire to the areas of technology that will play an important role in creating our inclusive future.


■This article was written in cooperation with the project members of “Women in Tech” in Japan, at Deloitte Tohmatsu Group.


Diversity, Equity & Inclusion initiatives at Deloitte Tohmatsu Group

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