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Empowering Women

Posted October. 15, 2010 11:31,   


Carly Fiorina, the Republican Senate nominee for California, is former CEO of Hewlett-Packard. She studied humanities instead of engineering in college, which is rare in Silicon Valley, but overcame sexism against a woman without technical knowledge and made her company a global IT giant by acquiring rival Compaq in 2001. Though infertile, Fiorina raised her husband’s two daughters well. U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi entered politics after her five children were all grown up and before her youngest daughter entered university. Sarah Palin, a former Republican candidate for vice president and former Alaska governor, is also mother to five children.

In Korea, it seems impossible for women to reach the highest positions while balancing work and family. The Dong-A Ilbo and the Korean Chamber of Commerce and Industry conducted a joint survey on the utilization of female workers at the country’s top 100 companies. Women were found to account for 22.9 percent of the workforce but a meager 7.1 percent of managers and 1.1 percent of executives were women. This is because women suffer interruption in their careers due to childbirth in their 30s, though more women entered university than men last year and more women joined the workforce. Dropping out of the workforce when most economically active prevents women from reaching higher positions that requires experience and leadership.

In this year’s Global Gender Gap report ranking gender gaps in 134 countries released by the World Economic Forum Tuesday, Korea placed a dismal 104th, though higher than 118th last year. The country got especially low marks in women’s participation in economic activities (111th), number of women legislators, high-ranking government officials and managers (111th), and women’s political empowerment (86th). In particular, the low economic activity rate of highly educated Korean women needs to be tackled since this will undermine national competitiveness. Kim Sung-joo, chairman of Sungjoo D&D, told a forum organized by the Federation of Korean Industries, “I feel especially upset when I see women in the upper class chat at lunch time at a luxurious hotel,” adding, “If women who got higher education and studied abroad don’t work, there is no future for the country.”

McKinsey said in a report that the only way for Korea to join the ranks of advanced economies is to utilize its female workforce. To understand women, who comprise the most important consumer segment, and create a new corporate culture embracing changes in the 21st century, support for women in the workforce is essential. Women serving in high posts can turn Korea`s male-oriented organizational culture into one that is family-friendly, minimize risk by valuing safety and health at workplaces, and reflect women’s perspectives in decision making. To fully utilize female human resources, more childcare support and a flexible work system are needed to allow women whose careers were interrupted to reenter the labor market.