Tag Archive | "women"

Gender Discrimination in Job Interviews Contributes to Workforce Inequality

By Jenna Gibson

What interests you about this job? What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses? What are your measurements?

One of these questions would raise red flags if asked by a potential employer here in the United States, but it is still relatively common in Korea. One woman who recently applied for a job as a nursery school teacher said she was asked about her family’s economic background, her weight, and whether she planned to continue working after getting married. She is not alone – according to the Korea Herald, in 2014 there were 630 reported cases in which job postings asked for “good-looking” candidates. And surely many more of these types of incidents went unreported.

Technically, these types of questions and other discriminatory practices are illegal in Korea. But they are still so commonplace that the Ministry of Employment and Labor announced on November 3 that they would be cracking down on violations.

According to Labor Ministry official Nah Young-don, who is in charge of youth and women policy, “The corporate culture that violates job seekers’ privacy by asking about marital status and appearance is a problem, but what’s more worrisome is that many companies are not aware of the illegality of such practice.” To help remedy this, the Ministry is sending information on discrimination rules to thousands of major companies. Specific guidelines include: do not specify that a post is for men or women only without a specific reason, do not ask personal questions during the job interview, and do not include requirements related to appearance in job postings.

Violating discrimination laws does carry a 5 million won ($4,400) penalty, but according to the Korea Herald many companies have merely been issued warnings in the past. The Ministry says it will now start handing out fines more broadly.

Of course it’s important to crack down on blatantly discriminatory questions and requirements. However, the Korean government has to go a lot farther if it is going to solve the issue of gender inequality in the workforce.

One major issue that remains is the use of photos on resumes. What good is it to ban interview questions about appearance when the employer will still be able to view the applicant before they even step into the room? The use of photos on resumes is discouraged by the Labor Ministry, which released a standardized resume format in 2007 that excluded categories like height, weight and family background. However, a bill that would specifically ban the inclusion of photos in job applications has been lingering in the National Assembly for three years with no sign of movement.

Korea scored the lowest in the OECD on The Economist’s recent “glass-ceiling index,” which measures female labor-force participation, wage gap, and women in leadership positions. The United States has room to grow as well – at 58.2 points, America is below the OECD average of 60.3 on this index.

During her presidential campaign in 2012, President Park Geun-hye emphasized the importance of addressing the issues women face in the workforce, saying, “More participation of women in the economy is a core engine for the nation’s growth.” And her administration has taken some steps to ameliorate the situation, strengthening the coordinating role of the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family and setting a target ratio for female managers across the public sector.  Despite these steps, major obstacles remain for Korean women in the workplace. Tackling the discrimination they face before even being offered a job will not solve all these issues, but it certainly is a good place to start.

Jenna Gibson is the Associate Director for Communication Technology and Programs at the Korea Economic Institute of America. The views expressed here are the author’s alone. KEI intern Juni Kim contributed to the infographic in this post.

Photo from Republic of Korea’s photostream on Flickr Creative Commons.

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The Korean and American Presidents Should Discuss Work-Family Balance Issues

By Dr. Seung-kyung Kim

On October 16, President Park Geun-hye and President Barack Obama will be meeting for the fourth time since they became presidents of their respective countries.  As always, the security issues involving North Korea will be the top item on their agenda.  However, the two countries also have a broad range of mutual interests in such topics as economy, environment, energy, space, health, trade, and cybersecurity.  To this list, I would like to suggest an issue that has been central to both presidents’ interests and commitments throughout their presidencies: the importance of middle class families and the work-family balance that is at the core of sustaining middle class lives in both countries.  Earlier this year in state of the nation addresses, both presidents stressed the importance of enhancing the lives of middle class families and their centrality to revitalizing their national economies.  The work-family balance is no longer a matter of individual life, but a national (even global) issue that governments and policymakers should pick up and do something about.

 The old idea that middle class families consist of a breadwinning father and a homemaking mother has become obsolete in both countries.  In Korea 44% of married couples are now dual earner families (Korea National Statistics Office), while for the United States the figure is 48% (Bureau of Labor Statistics).  The lives of middle class families are thus becoming more challenging because both men and women need to balance family and work responsibilities, and the issue of work-family balance is an important one for both presidents in their goals to improve the well-being of the middle class.

Women are, of course, at the heart of the work-life dilemma because they are placed in much more vulnerable positions than men, both in the workplace and at home.  Not only does the wage gap prevent women from earning the same incomes as men, but women are also more likely to leave the work force in order to assume the responsibilities of child rearing.  Women achieve higher education in both countries at a rate comparable to or higher than men: in Korea, 49.4% of recipients of bachelor’s degrees are women (Korea Education Development Institute) while in the United States, 52.4% of recipients of bachelor’s degrees are women (National Center for Education Statistics).

Both countries have problems with unequal access to the job market.  In the United States, women’s labor force participation is below that of men at all ages except the teenage years (US Bureau of Labor Statistics).  In Korea, women start out with high rates of labor force participation, but, after age thirty, women are significantly less likely to be in the workforce.  The gap between women and men’s labor force participation is highest for people in their thirties, when about 90% of men are in the work force, but less than 60% of women are (Korea National Statistics Office).  This drop can be attributed to the fact that women of this age have child rearing responsibilities that their male counterparts do not.  Even after the end of the peak phase of childrearing, women in Korea do not return to the labor force in numbers comparable to those of men.  The fact that so many women remain outside the labor force is both a loss of productivity to society, and a loss of opportunity to the women.

Governments can assist families trying to achieve work-family balance by instituting policies that help women participate more fully in the labor force.  Among these policies are insuring paid maternity leave, providing quality childcare, and easing barriers to reentry into the labor force.  Both countries need to work on implementing these policies, and both presidents have made efforts to address them.

In terms of women in the workplace, Korea and the United States have significantly different deficiencies.  The United States is the only high-income country in the world that does not require employers to provide paid maternity leave for employees.  The high cost of childcare is another problem in the U.S. as President Obama noted in a recent speech, “… in most states, parents spend more on day care for their children than they would for a year of college” (University of Kansas, January 22, 2015).  South Korea, on the other hand, suffers from the largest wage gap between men and women in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, with women only earning 65% of what men earn.  The low wages paid to women depresses their rate of labor force participation and women who have left the work force find it difficult to resume their careers.  Only 20% of re-employed women are hired for full-time regular positions while more than 60% are hired back as part-timers or contract workers (Korean Women’s Development Institute).

Both presidents recognize the importance of increasing the participation of women in the labor force to their national economies and have presented strategies to achieve this.  President Park has asserted “More participation of women in the economy is a core engine for the nation’s growth” (Wall Street Journal June 17, 2013).  Her government has worked to increase the number of child care facilities and improved their quality.  She also has advocated that employers should create female-friendly work environments and adopt more flexible hours to help working mothers.  Her Minister of Gender Equality and Family, Kim Hee-jung, said “We need for  [companies] to realize that keeping women in the workplace is investing in our future” (Reuters January 27, 2015).  President Obama has identified “high quality, affordable child care” as “a national economic priority” and said he would like to make quality child care accessible to 100 million more children and provide an annual tax cut for their families of up to $3,000 per child. “It is time we stop treating child care as a side issue or a women’s issue,” he said. “This is a family issue” (University of Kansas, January 22, 2015).

Given both presidents’ interest and commitment to work-family balance, I can envision them putting their heads together and discussing these issues. They will find that they have yet another topic in common to discuss and share ideas about.

Dr. Seung-kyung Kim is a Professor, Chair of the Department of Women’s Studies and Director of the Center for East Asian Studies at the University of Maryland, College Park. The views expressed here are the author’s alone.

Photo from  Marcelo Druck’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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Women Leading Korea

By Sarah K. Yun

For the first time in Korean politics, two women are leading the ruling and opposition parties.  Two other women became the chairpersons for the most liberal party in Korea.  In January 2012, Korea was accepted to chair the United Nations Women, which promotes gender equality and empowerment of women.  Also recently, the South Korean ambassador to the U.N. was appointed as the president of the U.N. Women board.  Developed countries including Japan are talking about the improved institutionalization of Korean female leadership and the elevation of Korea as a global symbol of women’s empowerment.  What explains this surge and has Korea entered into a new era of female political leadership?

Throughout history, Korea has had a small but meaningful line of female political leaders such as Queen Seondeok (57 BC-935 AD), Queen Jindeok, and Queen Jinseong of the Silla dynasty; Queen Dowager Honae of Koryo dynasty (918-1393); and Queen Min and Queen Yun of the Yi dynasty (1392-1910). All of the female rulers, however, had the role of a “queen mother,” whereby their political participation depended on being a mother or wife of past and future kings. In the contemporary history of Korea, women found their political voice during the emancipation movement against the Japanese occupation (1910-1945). However, women’s political activism during this period was on an individual basis, mostly stemming from nationalistic rightist movement.

It was not until the democracy movement in the 1980s that women began to organize as a collective and became a bipartisan movement. In 2000, the quota system was introduced to increase diversity in Korean politics, whereby women must account for over 50% of proportional representation candidates for municipal and provincial councils, and political parties must make efforts to ensure that women make up at least 30% of nominated candidates for local constituencies in the general and local level elections. The first National Assembly of Korea from 1948-1950 consisted of 199 men and 1 woman. Since then, representation of women has been on a steady rise from 3% in the 15th Assembly, 5.3% in the 16th Assembly, 12.7% in the 17th Assembly with the introduction of the quota system, to 13.7% in the currently 18th Assembly.

Although women faced hardships in breaking the glass ceiling, they also faced opportunities in times of political crisis and uncertainties. The notion of change, justice, and anti-corruption against authoritarianism was on the forefront of the mind of the Koreans during the late 1980s and 1990s. Desire for clean and moral path to politics, along with the advancement of democracy and egalitarianism provided an opportune moment for female political leaders to advance their position.

For example, both the Grand National Party (GNP) and the Uri Party appointed women as the spokesperson during the impeachment crisis of President Roh. Ms. Park Geun-hye was elected as the GNP party leader during a difficult time in 2004, and again recently in December 2011. Ms. Han Myung-sook was appointed as prime minister after President Roh’s impeachment crisis and declining popular support, and recently became the leader of the Democratic United Party (DUP) in January 2012.  Their leadership comes at a time when both parties are battling identity.

Sarah K. Yun is the Director of Public Affairs and Regional Issues for the Korea Economic Institute. The views expressed here are her own.

Korea Times photo by Ko Young-kwon.

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