Wed, Feb 05, 2014 - Page 4 News List

South Korea pushes for gender equality

MALE-DOMINATED:Measures include naming and shaming firms that discriminate and childcare subsidies. Gender equality could boost GDP by 1 percentage point


South Korea will adopt a name-and-shame policy, publicly identifying companies with low female employment levels, as South Korean President Park Geun-hye targets 1.65 million extra jobs for women.

Policy steps will include increased subsidies for parents on childcare leave and preferential treatment for “family-friendly” companies seeking government contracts, six ministries said in a joint statement yesterday.

With an aging population threatening to undermine South Korea’s economic growth, Park, the nation’s first female president, has pledged to lift the female employment rate to 61.9 percent, from 53.5 percent, before her term ends in 2018. South Korean Minister for Gender Equality Cho Yoon-sun is working with the family-run industrial groups called chaebol to try to end male-dominated employment practices.

“The male-dominated culture is not shifting fast enough and is a big obstacle to companies actually implementing such measures,” Lee Su-youn, head of the Korea Workingmom Institute, a Seoul-based research organization, said after the measures were announced.

Companies with at least 500 workers and a female share of the workforce that is less than 70 percent of their industry’s average for three consecutive years may be publicly named, the ministries said, adding that more details of the plan will be released in December. Another condition would be that the businesses had failed to do enough to tackle the gender disparity, the agencies said.

“With well-devised policy support at each stage of women’s life cycles, we will create a country where they don’t have to quit their jobs because of their babies,” the ministries of finance, gender equality, education, welfare, labor and administration said in yesterday’s statement.

While the Bank of Korea sees a 3.8 percent economic expansion this year, followed by 4 percent growth next year, policymakers are looking ahead to demographic drags. South Korea’s working-age population is projected to start declining in 2018, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). An OECD report submitted to Park last year estimates that Korea would add about 1 percentage point to growth if it had equal employment.

“For highly educated women in better-paid jobs, as soon as they get into their 30s, their employment rate drops sharply and they never recover,” said Cho, in an interview in her office in Seoul on Jan. 10. “The biggest priority is to help them not to quit their jobs while raising kids.”

Hyundai Motor Group had 4.8 percent female staff in 2012, according to Seoul-based private research company CEOScore. Hyundai Motor Co, the conglomerate’s largest company and the nation’s biggest automaker, said in an e-mail it only had one woman among its 246 executives as of Sept. 30 last year.

The decline in female managers occurs as women quit their jobs after marriage to raise children, Cho said. Women represented 37 percent of the workforce at South Korean companies with at least 1,000 workers at the end of 2012, but filled only 17 percent of managerial posts at private and public companies, according to South Korean Ministry of Labor data.

By the time they get to director level, the balance is even worse. Women made up 1 percent of the nation’s corporate boards in 2011, according to a report by McKinsey & Co.

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