Gender Equality Solutions a Problem in Korean Workforce

by Ji Soo Kim

Recovering from Japanese colonization and the Korean War, under the strong U.S influence, the Republic of Korea displayed an amazing yet abrupt economical development throughout the 20th century. Due to the traditional Confucian belief of “men are superior to women, who are expected to attend to men’s every need,” the social status of women in Korea before Western influence was significantly low. As the Western ideology of gender equality permeated in Korean society, educated men lifted their voice to give equal rights to women, and women shouted for their rights.

Beginning with women’s suffrage in 1948, the social and governmental movement for women’s rights rapidly settled in society. As a result, women in Korea now seem to have equal rights under the protection of the whole society. However, the process of achieving gender equality was done too abruptly. People do not understand the true definition of gender equality, thus real problems regarding gender have not been solved in many parts of society, and men are claiming their feelings of reverse discrimination. In this article, I will specifically talk about gender equality issues in workforce, and suggest better solutions to current activities for improvement.

The Korean government set laws and encouraged businesses to protect women from being discriminated against in employment, and in the workplace. An example of the law is that an employer should not consider female employee’s physical looking, or ask about marriage status, which are unnecessary in work performance. Businesses were encouraged to increase female welfare in the company, to provide long maternal leave, menstrual leave, shuttle bus system for safe return to home, anonymous telephone line for accusation of any sexual discrimination, powder rooms and lounges only for women, and extra financial support for child care. An example of Korean company known for fine female welfare is Hyundai Motors. It is one of the most popular businesses where young women wish to be employed. However, uncongenial to its high reputation, women employees consist only 4.3% of the entire company. Why is the women employee proportion considerably low while the company provides satisfying welfare for women? Looking around the young graduates around me, I also see many who wish to be employed by Hyundai Motors, which means that there are sufficient, and even an overflow of applicants.

One valid reason for low constitution of female employees in Hyundai Motors could be employers’ unwillingness to employ women. The cost of hiring a woman in their workforce is much higher compared to that of hiring a man, since they have to provide all different kinds of welfare. If there is a man and a woman in interview with almost the same quality and potential, even if I was an employer, I would choose man not because I am discriminating against woman, but for cost reduction. This possible reason is suggesting that current welfare system is designed just to satisfy the wants of the government and the society, and this is ineffective because it shows a decline of women employment in some business sectors and discourages younger unemployed women to aim for these businesses.

The society demands female welfare because we are taught that women must have ‘equal’ rights to men, and that women had not been treated ‘equally’ in past. With such excessive focus on women, not many people clearly come to understand the true meaning of gender equality. The majority focused only on present discrimination against women around us. The law protected women first, and businesses started to provide immoderate welfares for women, and there’s no specific word as ‘male welfare.’

In workplaces, to stop employer’s unconscious thinking of preferring man over woman for cost reduction, not only female welfare but also male welfare should be considered thoughtfully. Excessive focus on women empowerment in workforce created current system. Companies should concern men and women together and provide what is needed for each fairly. Increase in paternal leave, provision of comfortable lounge for men, or provision of children’s kindergarten in father’s company could be possible solutions. Concern for both men and women in work places would make both willing to work for longer period with loyalty, and lead to better understanding of each other. The change in work places would result in a bigger change in the entire society. Starting with work places, a deep knowledge and discussion about gender equality should be taught and held in public education system. The society would not be able to change at once, but with the effort of current generation, the future generation will grow up with much improvement.

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One thought on “Gender Equality Solutions a Problem in Korean Workforce

  1. Pingback: Care Crisis at the Core of Gender Non-Equality | JAPANsociology

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