Module 3: Final Assignment

The mandate for the final assignment was to “analyse the extent to which your organisation’s learning environment constitutes a powerful learning environment and consider how a learning issue that you have identified is affected by this learning environment”. I selected the issues of sexual harassment and sexism because I felt that the different ways that they are being tackled would be revealing, and also this may be the first paper from the course that could be of benefit to an audience wider than the Ed.D.

Sexism and sexual harassment: Issues in diversity in a learning organisation


TBGU’s response to sexual harassment is laudable, yet its neglect of sexism threatens the development of a powerful learning environment. Addressing diversity issues is an important action in the creation of learning environments that allow all learners to grow, yet TBGU ignores sexism as a threat to learner growth. Sexism and sexual harassment are related, but an investigation into how these issues are approached reveals much about how the structure, politics and organisational culture of TBGU preserve structural and systemic weaknesses in the institution. Using Kegan’s constructive developmental framework as a theoretical lens, I argue that TGBU’s learning environment is strengthened by its response to sexual harassment, yet concurrently undermined by it ignoring the stereotype threat to learning inherent in sexism, in particular. This research may help understand some cultural impediments that hinder the change process.

The creation, development and maintenance of a safe learning environment is a fundamental task in educational management (Mullen, 2009). Students’ physical safety is one component of quality assurance standards (Ellis, 1993), and much research emphasises the importance of psychological safety in educational environments (Benninga, Berkowitz, & Kuehn, 2006; Doppler & Lauterburg, 1997; Riofrio, 2014; Yu & Liu, 2009). Both physical and psychological threats to student and staff safety induces anxiety which undermines individuals’ learning capabilities (Owens, Stevenson, Norgate, & Hadwin, 2008). Sexual harassment results in physical and mental deterioration and constitutes a potential and significant threat to the emotional well-being and growth in individuals (Gruber & Fineran, 2008). Nora et al. (2002) describe medical students’ “decreased ability to learn, feelings of helplessness, and increased cynicism” after experiencing sexual harassment during their study (p. 1227). Accordingly, educational leaders have been promoting awareness of and legislation against sexual harassment in educational settings, for example in the U.S. since 1971 (Sexual Harassment Guidance 1997, 2015), in Hong Kong since 1995 (Lee & Collins, 2010) and in Japan from 1997 (Huen, 2011).

Whereas sexual harassment has clear legally defined actions (Harris, 2007), only particular types of overt and blatant sexism are legally sanctionable (Lind, 2007). Like sexual harassment, sexism affects academic performance significantly (O’Brien et al., 2015). However, unlike sexual harassment, sexism has covert forms and is connected to complex concepts of gender stereotype, implicit bias and other types of prejudice and discrimination (Lind, 2007). Sexism may be present in stereotypes, often portraying women in inferior to men (Lind, 2007). Such stereotypes represent a threat in the education of women that negatively affects academic performances (O’Brien et al., 2015). Flanagan (2015) described how women business students’ lower self expectations compared with their male counterparts represents a stereotype threat that results in lower academic performance. Flanagan lists other negative consequences of stereotype threat in addition to weaker academic achievement: decreased performance, disengagement from study and self-handicapping (Flanagan, 2015, p. 167). Flanagan (2015) also lists goal-changing to accommodate the individual’s reduced perception of their future self, and McCormick and Morris (2015) provide a case-in-point in their study of how stereotype threat affects women negotiators claiming that due to “feminine traits such as compassion and unassertiveness, people expect women to do poorly in negotiation” (p. 115).

Furthermore, sexism can be internalised by the victims themselves. Logel, Peach and Spencer (2011) identify individuals on a continuum of “conscious awareness of stereotype threat” (p. 165); individuals differ in their self-awareness of the degree to which they have embodied wider negative notions of gender and race. Such notions perpetuate gender discrimination by supporting “powerful yet often invisible barriers to women’s advancement” through practices based on “cultural beliefs about gender, as well as workplace structures, practices, and patterns of interaction that inadvertently favour men” (Ely & Kolb, 2011, p. 475). These second generation gender biases can be “invisible, subtle, or implicit” (Cho et al., 2015) and are often carried out on women by women themselves. Yamamoto (2015) studied Japanese mothers and found that the “[g]ender norms and expectations that are deeply embedded in parents’ beliefs are likely to affect girls’ and boys’ socialization processes and their future” (p. 24).

A foundational issue for higher educational institutes (HEI) is encapsulated in Zajda, Majhanovich and Rust’s question; “How can we contribute to the creation of a more equitable, respectful, and just society for everyone?” (2006, p. 13). Issues of equity, inclusion and meritocracy are at the heart of building HEIs that truly promote growth for all members (Brennan & Naidoo, 2008). The twin issues of sexual harassment and sexism present HEIs with two problems that hinder development, yet in TBGU only sexual harassment is acknowledged. Currently in place at TBGU are a committee on sexual harassment, a leaflet which is distributed to students, posters situated around the campus and trained specialists able to council students. These measures point to the existence of both the political will to tackle sexual harassment as a genuine threat to the learning in the university and to the organisational structures required to operationalize that will. But why should one serious issue be recognised and another ignored? This paper sets out an attempt to find out why TBGU’S learning environment is enhanced by its response to sexual harassment yet concurrently undermined by it ignoring sexism.

Essentially, the driving issue behind this study are the possibilities that TBGU cannot see sexism or that it is not willing to recognise sexism. Does TBGU have what Foucault called a “systematic blindness: a refusal to see and to understand” (1990, p. 55) sexism? Yet, its actions against sexual harassment are laudable. Although both issues have empirically observable negative effects on learning and learning organisations need to respond to both, is there some impediment either inside TBGU or in the different natures of the issues that allow one issue to be tackled while overlooking the other? Without any implication that anyone in the institution deliberately supports sexism or any other form of gender discrimination, I proceed on the assumption that TBGU is an organisation that actively seeks to promote learning and personal growth of each member and of the organisation itself.

TBGU’s Positioning for Change

Two questions inform the following section that attempts to understand TBGU’s mission and certain parameters in change decision making: what is the wider context in which TBGU operates in regard to its role as an HEI?; and how does that context impact on the range of decisions likely for TBGU? After that, I develop Kariya and Rappleye’s (cited in Aspinall, 2010) concept of permiology as a framework for predicting the likelihood of change at TBGU.

TBGU in society

TBGU’s primary aspirations are articulated in its five statements of educational ideals (TBGU, 2015). These represent the educational mission of the institution and variously serve as a public proclamation of the symbolic values that shape the university (Brennan, 2008). Following Wilson, Meyer and McNeal’s classification of themes in mission statements (2012, p. 134), TBGU’s ideals focus on development of creativity, expertise and humanity and awareness of social issues while growing as cosmopolitan human beings. Not present in these ideals is any reference to race, ethnicity, gender, class, sexual orientation, religion, age, disability or any other of the diversity classifications Wilson et al. (2012) list, supporting Mackie’s (2002) observation that Japanese “models of citizenship implicitly privilege the male, white-collar ‘citizen in a suit'” (cited in McLelland & Dasgupta, 2005, p. 2). McLelland and Dasgupta’s book (2005) is a collection of articles demonstrating the extent to which Japanese society is indeed diverse. They note that “sexuality and gender are not autochthonous forces which exist independent of wider social structures and ideologies” (McLelland & Dasgupta, 2005, p. 11) and discuss the flourishing native Japanese activist and research movements in gender studies and awareness.

TBGU’s lack of reference to diversity and genuine awareness of non-normalised identities may trigger a tension between its stated aims and the needs and aspirations of many of its diverse members. At the same time, TBGU is a social organisation, evidenced in the ideals statements. Huen’s remark that “Japanese culture promotes conformity with passive social norms and avoids confrontation with others” (Huen, 2011, p. 813) allied with Trow’s understanding that HEIs are linked to their societies through the “measure of societal trust in the integrity and competence of the institutions” (Trow, 2007, p. 265), aids the understanding of how TGBU approach risk. Fostering notions of diversity in a society that is only now opening up to such ideas is perhaps viewed as risky: either the conservatives may react adversely or the progressives may embrace TBGU. Hofstede’s analysis of the culture of Japan (Hofstede, Hofstede, & Minkov, 2010) characterises the country as risk aversive. The likelihood of bland, generalistic and conservative ideals continuing is strong.

Permiology and the possibility of change

In discussing Japan’s response to globalisation and her revision to the Fundamental Law of Education in 2006, Kariya and Rappleye (cited in Aspinall, 2010) draw on the notions of permiology and immunology: the former relating to the framing of foreign ideas inside a Japanese narrative; the latter to the dismissal of ideas. Kariya and Rappleye expected Japan to globalise by allowing the permeation of foreign ideas albeit and naturally infused with Japanese concerns (Aspinall, 2010). However, they found that the government interpreted internationalisation as the promotion of Japaneseness to the outside world, an immunised position against foreign ideas (Aspinall, 2010). These terms offer a useful mechanism for analysing and predicting the nature of change at TBGU. These are different from the “equilibrating forces” that “may act as inhibitors to ongoing change and development” that Bess and Dee describe (2012, p. 799). “Long-standing traditions” (Bess & Dee, p. 799) reflect either unquestioned cultural norms or deliberately repeated outward performances of shared values and beliefs (Schein, 2004). However, permiology requires the existence of mutable ideas onto which the incoming idea can be linked. In other words, for change to be possible, three elements need to be in place: a challenging idea that necessitates change brought about by changes in the social context of the HEI (Yonezawa, 2002); a foundational idea that when adopted can be reframed and re-established during the change process; and a learning organisation needs to have a change enabling culture (Kezar & Eckel, 2002).

Although the “public consciousness of sexual harassment emerged much later in Japan” in comparison with some western countries (Uggen & Shinohara, 2009, p. 201), the challenging idea of sexual harassment is present in TBGU. Huen (2011) reports that Japanese interest in sexual harassment has “surged” (p. 814) since the original filing of a sexual harassment claim in 1987. A revision to the Equal Employment Opportunity Law (EEOL) in 1997 distinguishes between quid pro quo and hostile environmental sexual harassment (Huen, 2011). The critical point in creating a legally-defendable typology of sexual harassment is that particular actions are definable as being harassment. Only sexual harassment, and not sexism, may be a challenging idea. Sexism is still relegated to an immunised status if recognised at all.

A salient feature of the Japanese educational system is its emphasis on meritocracy and egalitarianism (Sugimoto, 2014). These notions form the basis for Yonezawa’s (2014) assertion that Japan’s universities are characterised by their collegiate cultures. Together, meritocracy and egalitarianism form a cognitive framework and a symbol of value to the Japanese HEI, and they become a foundational idea that is malleable to situation and context. Sexual harassment represents a direct threat to equality of the organisation, and meritocracy is at risk when members of the HEI may have their academic achievement disturbed by harassment (Benninga et al., 2006; Doppler & Lauterburg, 1997; Riofrio, 2014; Yu & Liu, 2009).

Does TBGU have an enabling culture? Muta (2004) describes the importance of group harmony in Japan. The cultural imperative on Japanese women to be “generous, tender, modest and reserved” (Muta, 2004, p. 13) inhibits women from speaking out against sexual harassment and “any disruption to the harmony of the group might cause embarrassment and dishonour” (Huen, 2011, p. 821). Huen (2011) agues that the potential loss of face and shame to an individual inside organisation following a sexual harassment claim or to the organisation if the claim became public provides sufficient force to enable larger organisations to promote awareness of sexual harassment. A university’s reputation, arguably, may be more perilous than that of a major corporation, and threats to that are taken very seriously (Arimoto, Cummings, Huang, & Shin, 2015; Henkel, 2009; Wæraas & Solbakk, 2009). Once the law came into effect, this threat became real and many universities realised the “great enough sense of urgency” required for successful and efficient change (Kotter, 1995). Whether TBGU’s enabling culture is a result of fear of losing face or of an attempt to protect institutional members or both is an open question. It may also be interesting to ask, if meritocracy and egalitarianism are so important, why was it only after the law changed that HEIs in Japan made any response to sexual harassment: presumably Japanese authorities and researchers would have been aware of the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Japanese EEOL in 1985, decades before any HEI took action?

The key elements that allow sexual harassment to become a focus of permiological change are in place at TBGU, but only one of them permits such change in attitudes towards sexism. The foreign challenging idea of sexism has yet to take serious root in Japan, and the EEOL “retains the character of a guideline” without sanctions to give it real power (Assmann, 2014). The foundational ideas of meritocracy and egalitarianism are by definition present, but degree to which TBGU has an enabling culture for an idea that is not supported by conservative norms is debatable.

Barriers to Change

Various interpretations are possible that try to explain why TBGU does not respond to sexism or any other gender bias discrimination. The first is a cynical reasoning that because there is no power in the law nor any fear of reputational damage, there is no pressure for change (Assman, 2014). Another related explanation is that grassroots change lacks influence due to the ease by which outspoken women can be ostracised for disturbing group harmony (Muta, 2004). Furthermore, stakeholders in HEI do not push for nor expect ameliorations in gender bias issues as the mainstream conceptions of gender roles continue to dominate (Uggen & Shinohara, 2009). A common thread can be discerned: men do not see a need for change. To offer one tentative possible reason for why this may be so, I draw upon Robert Kegan’s constructive developmental framework (Kegan, 1982) and argue that that it is less that men choose not to see, but that men and women’s cognitive construction of gender inhibits the ability to see.

Kegan’s cognitive development

For an individual to be in balance in Kegan’s terms is to not see errors because the individual has strong lower-order conceptions of another way of seeing (Kegan, 1982, p. 28). That the individual is making a mistake is clear to others who hold higher-order conceptions. Kegan offers the classic Piagetian experiment to demonstrate this point. Two glasses of different height and width dimensions have the identical volume of water in them. A preoperational child cannot ‘see’ that the wider glass’s volume is the same as the taller one’s. The child equates height with more volume. Operational stage children can manipulate multiple dimensions and understand the concept of mathematical volume. But the preoperational child’s epistemology is rigid, and rigidly correct to them. To Kegan, what is available to the individual for introspection is something the individual can objectify: what affects, or controls, and which the individual is unaware of, the individual is subject to (p. 86). Eriksen (2008) offers the metaphor of the fish’s inability to see water to explain that “people lack awareness of or behave automatically in relationship to what they are subject to” (p. 235).

What to an individual is subject or object “essentially defines the underlying logic (or “psychologic”) of the person’s meaning” (Kegan, 1982, p. 113). Kegan’s notions of subject and object and how they combine to present interpretational possibilities offer an intriguing methodology for the analysis of why an institution may continue to act with impunity in ways that are detrimental to some of its members. Kegan himself (1982, p. 244) directs his theory onto the study of organisations.

Second generation gender bias

First generation gender bias is “discriminatory acts or other outward displays of disapproval” (Lake, Harvey, & Bosco, 2014, p. 1122). According to Sturm (2001) in the U.S. at least, such overt acts of gender-based discrimination are rarely seen. Second generation expressions of gender bias “is formed from expectations based on societal gender norms” and are “invisible” (Lake et al., 2014, p. 1122). Cho et al. (2015) find evidence in South Korea that women are often participatory in the “voluntary involvement in the gendering process” (p. 524), echoed by Yamamoto (2015) in her study of Japanese mothers. Second generation gender bias, therefore, may be viewed as a Keganian ‘subject’ that exerts unseen force leading to the reinterpretation of sexist attitudes in a positive (i.e. to the underdeveloped self) way.

Suggestions for Change

The question of whether or not TBGU offers a powerful learning environment in relation to the issue of gender discrimination is not answered easily. As a product of its culture, TBGU upholds the social reproduction of conservative, normative individuals. For those who fit this model, at least no damage to them is done by TBGU. However, the lack of awareness. or objectifiability, of deeper and more diverse human values may lead (may already be leading) to severe tensions between these conservative norms and the urges in certain members of the organisation to develop their fullest potential. I argue that however painful the transition is, ultimately it benefits all members to make the leap from being subject to having objectivity. I see no contradiction in this and in upholding the Confucian values dear to Japan (Aoki, 2008).

Introducing quality assessment measures for second generation gender bias appears an immediate solution. However as Lake et al. note, “second Generation Gender Bias differs greatly from First Generation Gender Bias because it is no longer linked with tangible evidence of discrimination” (Lake et al., 2014, p. 1123), making the decision on metrics to assess this ‘subjectivity’ is problematic.

It remains a possibility that at TBGU the idea that “functionalist belief in the need to get the right people into the right social positions, to the general benefit of all” (Brennan & Naidoo, 2008, p. 293) is a powerful subjective narrative affecting its operations. To this, I will change the term ‘functionalist’ to ‘essentialist’ to emphasise the gender bias implicit in the definition of the repeated ‘right’. Overcoming this attitude requires deep reflection and a genuine awareness of the potential of all institutional members. The construction of a truly transformative learning environment requires moving what is subjective to the organisation into the objective space (Kegan, 1982). Two cognitive shifts may aid this process: that the TBGU management “become cultural outsiders in order to observe their institutional patterns”(Kezar & Eckel, 2002, p. 437); and that they adopt double-loop reflection mechanisms (Argyris, 1976) that allow reflection not only on any changes proposed but also on underlying principles on which those proposals were created. Perhaps then, permiological change may become possible in TGBU’s stance towards sexism.


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About theCaledonian

Scot living in north Japan teaching at a national university.
This entry was posted in Assignments, EDEV_503, Evironment and infrastructure and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Module 3: Final Assignment

  1. Jim, brilliant. Really. I like the combined lenses of Kegan [lower-order conceptions] and Kariya and Rappleye’s permiology/immunology. I see these frameworks as having explanatory power here. You need to start publishing your work. I have no doubt it would be well received.

    Liked by 1 person

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