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Women breaking through glass ceiling

Posted December. 25, 2013 00:23,   


Korea has produced its first woman chief of a bank. The Financial Services Commission requested Monday the president’s approval on the appointment of Kwon Seon-joo, the senior executive vice president of the Industrial Bank of Korea, as the CEO of the state-run IBK. Starting as an ordinary banker, she has made it through fierce competition with economic officials and reached the top position. By breaking the highest glass ceiling in the banking industry, she has become a role model for so many women employees in the banking industry, which account for more than half of the total. It would be great if such women empowerment leads to the advancement in the banking industry.

It is also remarkable that a woman has become a director of Prosecutors’ Office for the first time in Korea. Cho Hee-jin, a researcher of the Legal Research and Training Institute who has earned the epithet “first woman” in the legal community, was appointed as a director of Seoul High Prosecutors’ Office. There had been women named as Justice Minister, Supreme Court justice and Constitutional Court justice, but it was the first time for a woman to become a chief of High Prosecutor’s Office. Cho has been served as the first woman prosecution professor at the Legal Research and Training Institute, the first woman head of District Prosecutors’ Office and the first woman chief prosecutor who led an investigation team, which had been considered a domain of men. And she broke a glass ceiling once again to become the head of Seoul High Prosecutors’ Office. Her appointment brought hopes to 486 women prosecutors, accounting for 25 percent of the whole. In Korea, women’s advancement into top positions is not merely a personal success story. Rather, it is a signal that the glass ceiling in Korean society is finally breaking.

Nevertheless, there is still a long way to go in both private and public sectors. Korean women’s college enrollment is 74.3 percent, higher than men’s (68.6 percent). However, women college graduates’ economic participation is only 62.5 percent, much lower than the OECD average of 82.6 percent. Economist, a British weekly magazine, announced a “glass ceiling” index in March. According to the index, Korea scored only about 15 points out of 100 and ranked bottom among 26 nations surveyed. According to a survey conducted by a U.S. institute on 45 nations, the ratio of women executives in Korean companies stood at 1.9 percent, the last but two.

The use of women workforce is a prerequisite to strengthening a nation’s economic competence. Besides, one of the economic priorities of the Park Geun-hye administration is to increase the employment rate to 70 percent. When Christine Lagarde, the first women Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, visited Korea early this month, she emphasized that “if (Korea) makes a progress in the low participation of women in economic activities and the income gap between men and women, it will be able to achieve the annual growth of 3.5 to 4 percent.”

Many women leave their jobs after struggling to juggle work and family life. Discontinuity in career is a waste of national resources. What is needed for women is neither advantages nor discrimination. Giving just fair opportunities and rights to women will be a way to revive the economy. The government and businesses should pay attention to building a woman-friendly environment where women can fully demonstrate their ability.