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Women workforce -- nuisance or treasure?

Posted June. 06, 2013 03:06,   


The Park Geun-hye administration’s roadmap for achieving the employment rate of 70 percent suggests its efforts to increase women’s employment by enhancing the compatibility of work and home. The administration’s “automatic maternity leave” allows women at work to concentrate on child rearing for 15 consecutive months. The administration plans to lessen the burdens on working mothers with children in low grades of elementary schools by allowing them to take maternity leave at any time before their child reaches 9 years old, up from the current age limit of 6 years.

The roadmap sounds like an encouragement of women to give birth to children and come back to their jobs any time they want. It is clear that such a policy will be effective in increasing the participation in economic activities by women in their 30s who had to quit their jobs due to childbirth and child-rearing. However, there is one thing that was overlooked in the policy – a higher employment rate does not necessarily mean higher quality of jobs.

According to management consulting firm McKinsey & Company’s report titled “Women Matter: An Asian Perspective 2012,” the ratio of women with jobs in South Korea was not lower than other Asian countries. However, the ratio of women decreased sharply as they move up the corporate ladder. The ratio of women among workers at ages between 15 and 64 in South Korea was 55 percent, ranking fifth among Asian economies after 74 percent in China, 70 percent in Australia, 62 percent in Japan and 60 percent in Singapore. However, South Korea showed the lowest ratio in Asia of women in corporate boards, with a paltry 1 percent. Other surveys also show similar results. There is no woman with executive positions at South Korea’s 13 major state-run corporations. The ratio of women CEOs at 1,787 publicly traded companies stands at a mere 0.73 percent. Women account for a meager 1.5 percent of executives at the country’s top-10 business conglomerates, while just 5.1 percent of senior posts at the Park administration are taken by women.

What prevents women from advancing to senior positions? Last month, Heidrick & Struggles, a global head hunting firm, announced an interesting result after surveying and interviewing 93 South Korean women executives and middle managers. Though more than half of them said they want to be as successful as men, 83 percent said there is an “invisible barrier.” The “invisible barrier” includes South Korea’s corporate culture that makes it difficult for women to maintain a balance between their jobs and families and the social pressure on them to focus on the duties of child-rearing.

If a woman with two children fully uses the automatic maternity leave, she will have a total of 30 months of vacuum in her job. It could become a fatal vacuum in one’s career, depending on the industry she is involved in. It is obvious that she would lose in the competition for promotion with men with similar positions and abilities. In addition, the fact that a part-time workers can be substitutes any time could be interpreted as an indication that she is not an essential member of her company.

Lee Hyeon-jeong, the first woman executive at Samsung Electronics Co., said that women workforce at South Korea’s large corporations is often considered “nuisance,” rather than “treasure.” In summary, she said that many companies open their doors wide to women but do not think about how to manage women workforce to enhance their competitiveness and productivity. She added that many companies do not go beyond providing education for men against sexual harassment or discrimination. A new DNA is essential for enterprise culture to be evolved and companies should find the DNA in women workforces. According to Lee, women’s competitiveness does not lie in working twice more than men or drinking as much as men, but lie in women’s different ways of thinking and strategies of working. Even if the government announces pro-women policies, it all depends on how employers make the best out of their women workforces.