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Korea`s dearth of female biz executives

Posted February. 22, 2013 07:03,   


Betty Goldstein (1921-2006) was born to a Jewish family in Illinois. After graduating summa cum laude from Smith College, she worked for a newspaper in New York and married Carl Friedman at age 26. When she asked for maternal leave before giving birth to her second child, her company fired her. At age 42, she began to take a path different from normal Caucasian housewives after writing “The Feminine Mystique,” a nonfiction book based on a survey of her former Smith College classmates who were full-time housewives. They were rich but suffered from depression. Selling more than 2.6 million copies, the book is credited with helping spark the beginning of the second wave of U.S. feminism.

Marking the 50th anniversary of the book, the author has recaptured the spotlight this year in America. In her book, Goldstein wrote that the education and policies of the male-centered American society prevented women from social participation by confining their roles to mothers, wives and consumers. She described the middle-income household in the suburbs as “a comfortable concentration camp.” These provocative expressions invited criticism of her book as being one of the most harmful from the 19th century onward. But "The Feminine Mystique" is now considered one of the most important books of the 20th century. Goldstein’s arguments for gender equality and women’s liberation remain valid.

In a 2011 survey by Fortune, just 14.1 percent of executives at the world`s top 500 companies were women, showing that the glass ceiling is intact. The situation in Korea is worse. Among nearly 6,000 executives at the country`s top 100 businesses, the number of female executives, excluding those of owner families, surpassed just 100 this year. A bill to increase the proportion of female executives at public corporations to 15 percent in three years and 30 percent in five years has been recently proposed in the National Assembly. Such goals, however, do not seem feasible considering the small number of female executives. Last year, high-ranking female workers set for promotion to executive posts at 149 public organizations accounted for just 2.6 percent (80) of all staff.

A female executive at a public organization said, “The mere increase in number shouldn`t be overly emphasized. It will be only meaningful when more newly employed women can be gradually promoted to the highest level.” The government should encourage more women to become executives, but a better solution is the number increases in a meaningful way than being used for propaganda. Korea will soon have its first female president in a few days. Foreign experts say Korea`s election of a woman as head of state before the U.S. was a great achievement of Korean society, which used to be male dominant until a century ago. The public and private sectors should follow suit. Korea has undoubtedly set a good precedent for the rest of the world by electing a female president.

Editorial Writer Koh Mi-seok (mskoh119@donga.com)