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We Need to Scale the “Glass Wall” in Order to Break the “Glass Ceiling”

We Need to Scale the “Glass Wall” in Order to Break the “Glass Ceiling”

Posted June. 25, 2004 22:25,   


Breaking the Glass Ceiling

By Lee Ju-hee, Jeon Byeong-yu, and Jane Lee

229 pp. 14,000 won.

Hanul Publishing Co.

Women comprise roughly 40 percent of the worldwide labor force. In terms of management positions, the number comes to around 20 percent.

However, in Korea, only five to six percent of all available managerial positions are held by women. The figure falls far short of Japan’s 11 percent, Singapore’s 22 percent, the Netherlands’ 23 percent, Germany’s 26 percent, the U.K.’s 33 percent, New Zealand’s 37 percent, and the U.S.’ 43 percent. This indicates that the “glass ceiling”—the unspoken, intangible barrier that prevents women from advancing to management or upper management positions—is that much more unyielding in Korean corporations.

In order to understand the realities of women seeking managerial positions at Korean companies, the authors conducted an investigation into the hiring practices of various corporations, alongside intensive interviews with women currently occupying management positions. The results show that the most common obstacles to women’s promotion to upper management include lack of experience, limited opportunities for gaining experience, male-centric core management networks, gender-discriminatory practices, and merely nominal standards of gender equality within companies.

The glass ceiling issue is directly connected to the “glass wall” phenomenon. Within the pyramid structure of large corporations, experience is usually gained through horizontal transfers from non-strategic to strategic sectors, which eventually enables advancement to core management positions. Against this conventional pattern for accumulating experience, women find themselves hindered from the get-go, in their ability to make successful horizontal transfers: they hit the “glass wall.”

The authors argue that “the glass wall can become the primary cause behind the glass ceiling, in that women are unable to move vertically into core management positions without being able to move horizontally into strategic sectors within the company structure, such as product development or marketing.”

As the most basic means of breaking down both the glass ceiling and the glass wall, they propose a “systematic human resources management strategy for companies in pursuit of realizing gender equality.” This strategy aims at “providing equal opportunities without prejudice, on the basis of ability and expertise.”

Unfortunately, the lack of systemic discrimination does not automatically lead to the eradication of the rigid glass ceiling or the glass wall. “If the ‘culture of the male-centric organization’—which fundamentally cuts women off from networking or information gathering—continues to prevail, there is little chance that the glass ceiling will ever break,” the authors point out.

Therefore, if this gender-discriminatory culture is to change, companies must become more active in allowing women to amass wide-ranging experience in company operations both within and outside the company, and in giving them an equal share of the basic information that exclusive male networks have long been taking for granted.

Most importantly, the breaking down of glass ceilings and glass walls must begin from the common understanding that this process is not something that should be embarked on out of consideration for women, but an essential survival tactic that will enable companies to enhance efficiency through the optimal utilization of the female labor force.

Hyoung-Chan Kim khc@donga.com