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Towards increasing women leadership in Korea

28 Jun, 2018 News Center 1,142

On June 15th, KDI School of Public Policy and Management held a special lecture on Women Leadership in Korea by Indiana University Associate Professor Yonjoo Cho

Currently, South Korea ranked 118th out of 144 countries in terms of gender equality in the 2017 edition of the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Index. Results of the annual report show that while men and women are generally equal in achieving education and access to health, Korean female empowerment still lags in the areas of economic and political participation.

“The status of women leaders in Korea is very token,” said Professor Cho in a special lecture in KDI School of Public Policy and Management on June 15. “Why are there no female CEOs in large [Korean] companies but more than 15 [female] CEOs in multinational companies?” she added.

CHO, whose research interests include women in leadership, presented her study on female corporate leadership in South Korea. She analyzed data from interviews with 107 female leaders using Rosabeth Kanter’s “Tokenism Theory”.

The study found four themes dominating the experience of these Korean women in leadership positions:

  • Visibility – female leaders feel they get more attention than their male counterparts that they have to be wary of committing mistakes.
  • Contrast – there remains a gender dichotomy in workplaces where certain jobs must be done by male employees and others by female employees.
  • Assimilation – women tend to accept the stereotypes about them with some feeling “powerless” to reject such notions.
  • Resistance – women do resist against the stereotypes either through passive or active manner.

These women struggles, CHO said, are linked to Korea’s cultural context of Confucianism, military-based loyalty, power hierarchy, and collectivism. One key finding in the study was how the interviewed participants tried to effect change in their work environments by being “tempered radicals”.

Introduced by Debra Meyerson in 2001, the concept of tempered radicals describes Korean women leaders’ behavior of waiting for the right timing to change the male-dominated culture of most workplaces. This means that they try to implement changes once they are in control of a decision-making position. Cho said this result is “uniquely Korean” because previous literature using Tokenism Theory did not focus on this angle. CHO considers the women’s tempered radicalism as a small win in trying to eliminate the gender bias practices in Korean offices. With this study, she hopes that they would be more women leaders in a more diverse environment in the years to come.

Patricia Anne PASION (2018 MDP, Philippines)