It’s time to get serious about gender: two people and a startup working to address the gender gap in IT.

Waffle is a general incorporated association with the mission of bridging the gender gap in the IT field, and EDOCODE Corporation has supported its activities from the beginning.

For this interview, we had Sayaka Tanaka and Asuka Saito, representatives of Waffle, and Takamasa Tamura, representative of EDOCODE, really talk about gender. The difference in perspective between the representatives of a non-profit corporation and a startup CEO, as well as the honest talk that comes from the trust that they talk at least once a month, will be worth watching!

(Interviewer: Kyo Yamada, EDOCODE)

Asuka Saito, Sayaka Tanaka, and Takamasa Tamura

Let’s start with the problem that Waffle is working on, shall we? In a nutshell, what is it that you are trying to achieve?

Tanaka:
If I had to put it in one word, it would be “education and empowerment to close the gender gap in the IT field”.

Tamura:
“Empowerment” is a bit of an unfamiliar word.

Tanaka:
Yes, it is. I don’t know how to put it in Japanese, but I think it means to energize people, to give them power, to bring out their potential. But I think “empowerment” is more appropriate, don’t you?

Saito:
Yes. I also use the term “Unlock the Potential”. In addition to education, mindset is also important. The mindset that there are various tools for that potential and that you can access them.

Tamura:
I see. By the way, why IT?

Saito:
IT is not a field directly related to physical strength, so it should be an easy job for women to enter. The wages are relatively high and there is a lot of potential, but it’s strange that the ratio of men to women is so skewed.

Tanaka:
I think it is due to the image of male-dominated workplaces, social stereotypes, low self-confidence among women, and lack of mentorship and support.

What I think is the biggest issue right now is that IT is not included in the career choices of female junior and senior high school students; they don’t think of IT and programming is not a very good job for them. In addition, students are not able to make independent choices. I mean, even if the students want to do something, when they disagree with their parents or teachers, they go with them.

At the current rate, there is data that it will take 117 years for women to account for half of the students in the sciences. In order to speed up the process, we are conducting various educational activities.

On the other hand, how have Tamura-san been thinking about gender?

Tamura:
I grew up in a traditional family, so I think I originally had a sense of “this is what women are like. I was a man, so I thought I had to do something about it”.

Tanaka:
Unexpected! I’m really curious about how you came to support Waffle from there. When did you realize your gender mindset?

Tamura:
When I joined a company as a new graduate and was working in sales, I experienced being defeated by my female peers. At first, I thought it was because it was easier for girls to get appointments, but then I gradually realized that it wasn’t a difference between men and women, but that I was really losing.

But when I looked around, I realized that there were very few women in management positions at the company, and I thought it was strange.

Saito:
It’s a typical “glass ceiling” situation. Did you think that this was a problem?

Tamura:
No, actually, I didn’t think it was that bad. I quit my job at a company and started running my own business, and then there was the recent reform in the way we work. I think the main reason is that the meaning of work has changed in my mind.

In the past, I used to think that “working” meant “donating time,” but that would inevitably put women who have given birth at a disadvantage. However, when I began to understand the importance of producing results regardless of time, I saw women who had limited time to work due to child rearing, etc., doing so with ingenuity, and I thought there was something to learn.

But I didn’t change suddenly. It was a gradual process, little by little.

Right now, the ratio of male to female employees at EDOCODE is almost 50/50 (Note: As of March 2021, there are 11 men (57.8%) / 8 women (42.1%)). I don’t think I’m overly conscious about the gender of our employees, age too. I probably don’t even know how old my employees are.

Saito:
I think that if we face our work seriously, we will reach a state where there is no such gender disparity, rather than gender equality as a pretext. It is more rational to have no disparity.

If so, why does the gender gap still exist?

Saito:
The causes are really complicated, but it is significant that there are cultural and historical labels that remain in the consciousness of that group. For example, in a group where there were women who didn’t have the right to suffrage, or a group that doesn’t take women in career-track positions, that consciousness will remain somewhere.

EDOCODE is a startup, starting from scratch, so if you think about it rationally, there was no need to distinguish between the two, and as a result, it’s 50/50 between men and women. But if you want to change something that already has a label, you need a conscious agreement. For example, a numerical goal such as a 50:50 gender ratio is effective because it is easy to understand.

Tamura:
I see. But if we do that, doesn’t it become a duty of the company rather than a matter of improving the efficiency of the company?

Saito:
The gender gap is an issue of human rights. But in a capitalist society, we cannot ignore the issue of productivity, of course.

Tamura:
That’s right. In fact, if it were made mandatory to have a 50–50 split, it would be difficult for companies that are not so large. However, if it is effective in terms of productivity, I think it will be easier for companies to adopt it.

You mentioned companies, why did EDOCODE start supporting Waffle as a company?

Tamura:
EDOCODE has a mission to solve the world’s problems. In order to do that, we need a diversity of opinions. In other words, we have been hiring in such a way, not for the purpose of ensuring diversity, but because we believe that it is better to have unbiased attributes in order to create good products.

As a result, I can now say with confidence that it is better that way. However, I was also thinking that this was a deep-rooted problem in Japan as a whole. That’s when I came across Waffle, an organization that is seriously addressing the gender gap, and decided to support them. I felt a natural empathy for them.

Tanaka:
You decided to support Waffle in the early stages, when it had just created its vision and mission. When I think about it now, it’s both gratifying and strange.

Tamura:
When I first met you, you had done a lot of research on the issues, and I felt that you really wanted to do this. At that time, there were only a few people and no money, but you didn’t seem troubled at all. You didn’t seem to be worried even though they were facing this huge hurdle. Also, we are not a big company, so we can’t support a large amount of money, but we still thought it was the right time to help.

Saito:
After that, we have regular monthly meetings on Zoom, and we really have a lot to talk about. We always feel that you are a person we can genuinely trust. You sometimes say “If the problems of the world were eliminated, there would be no need for EDOCODE.”, and that’s the same point of view we NPOs have.

Did you two have any worries when you started Waffle?

Tanaka:
I may not think of it as a hurdle in the first place.

Tamura:
That’s reassuring! What was it that made you feel the need to address gender issues in the first place?

Tanaka:
In my previous job, I was promoting programming education for schools nationwide, and while there was no gender difference in interest in programming at the elementary school stage, the participants in subsequent programming contests became all male as they got older. I thought it was simply odd. And when I learned that it wasn’t just a problem in Japan, I knew I had to do something about it someday.

Tamura:
When was that?

Tanaka:
It was around January of 2017. Then, in 2019, when Femtech was gaining momentum, I thought that someone should send out a message about the gender gap in the IT industry as well. I started talking about that with Saito, who I met on Twitter, and that’s how Waffle started.

Saito:
I was working for an IT company as a data scientist, and I felt that there were few women there as well. After that, I moved to a startup and started to be involved in hiring interviews myself, and I realized that there were no female applicants at all and that they were not in the market to begin with. Even at university, there are not many women in the sciences, and that was a continuing problem.

Tamura:
I see. After that, you won the “Japan SDGs Award” in 2020, and your momentum is incredible. I wonder if you have an instinct for reading the times.

Saito:
Tanaka has a good intuition. And she is also an idealist. On the other hand, I’m a logician, so I think we are well-balanced. We each have strengths and weaknesses, and we can have fun doing it, so I would probably recommend the Co-Founder type for NPOs.

Tamura:
That might be the same for entrepreneurship as well.

Finally, how are we going to solve the gender gap now?

Saito:
The gender gap is a complex issue, and just in the IT field alone, there are many issues that come up when you dig into it, such as the gender gap in the number of science engineers and the number of people going to science universities, the gender gap in wages between men and women working in the industry, and the gender gap in interest in the IT field among teenagers. That’s why I’ve decided to focus on what we need to do now.

The “Technovation Girls” application contest that we have been running since last year is an educational activity to remove the stereotype that “programmers have to be like this” or “girls are not good at science subjects”, but other than that, we would like to actively make policy proposals this year. In addition, this year I would like to actively make policy proposals. As I mentioned earlier, the career choices of female junior and senior high school students involve not only their own will but also structural issues.

Tanaka:
Listening to female junior and senior high school students, I found out that there seems to be a lot of influence of teachers on their decision making. So I would like to do a survey on the actual situation. I hope we can not only raise awareness among students, but also reach out to the people around them.

Tamura:
There was something I noticed while talking with you both this time. One thing I realized while talking with both of you this time was that the “company” was an important factor for me to become aware of the gender gap. Each family has its own “norm”, so even if there is a gender gap, it’s hard to notice it on your own. Then, I thought that the place where businesspeople can be aware of the gender gap on a daily basis is the company, which is a community outside the home that is accessed as often as the home, but where the norms of the home do not apply.

When we talk about gender issues, we often talk about sensational news such as someone’s gaffe, but I think it’s something more familiar and everyday. That’s why I think it’s more effective to have daily conversations at the office about “I want to hear the opinions of people with different backgrounds” rather than denouncing news like that.

It made me a little happy to think that facing diversity in the company as a manager could actually be an important factor in solving the gender gap in society.

Saito:
In order to solve the gender gap in companies, I believe that top-down approaches are effective. It is very important for management to confront gender issues. If the demand for female IT personnel is ready, I think it will have a positive impact on the supply side of education.

Tamura:
I enjoyed talking with you today. Let’s talk again next month!

Public Relations at EDOCODE Inc.