Glass Ceiling in Korean Civil Service: Analyzing Barriers to Women's Career Advancement in the Korean Government

Article excerpt


A large increase in the female employment has become the most noticeable social transformation around the world (International Labor Office [ILO], 2010). While women made up 38% of the world's workforce in 1970, the statistic has increased to 47.3% after several decades (ILO, 2010). Along with the global trend, gender equity has been a widely accepted policy goal in many countries (Connell, 2006). As the term "glass ceiling" was coined in the 1970s, reform efforts aimed at opening up top-level positions for women have persisted across countries but the results have seen only modest changes in gender representation (Connell, 2006).

The proportion of women in the Korean labor force has also increased from 37.2% in 1965 to 48.3% in 2000. Despite the rapid increase, the statistics shows clear evidence that women in employment have not been treated fairly in important personnel procedures and decisions (e.g., work assignments, compensation, promotion), which resulted in fewer women in higher ranks (Ministry of Public Administration and Security [MOPAS], 2011). Stivers (2002) pointed out that the American government has also historically excluded women from powerful positions with greater authority. The numerical data, however, suggest that gender inequity may be a more serious concern in Korea than in the United States. For example, in 2011 only 3.2% of senior executive ranks in the Korean government were occupied by women (MOPAS, 2011), while approximately 30% of equivalent positions were held by women in the U.S. federal government in 2007 (U.S. Office of Personnel Management [OPM], 2007). In a similar line, the 2004 data of international labor organization (ILO, 2004) also show that, in general, countries in North America, South America, and Eastern Europe have a higher share of women in managerial jobs than countries in East Asia, South Asia, and the Middle East (ILO, 2004). While the racially homogeneous population in Korea does not create problems associated with discrimination against a certain race/ethnicity, women have often been treated unfairly in employment. Some scholars (e.g., R. Kim, 1994; Moon, 2002) have argued that the current gender imbalance in the workforce may be attributed to historical and social contexts of Korea, especially the Confucian legacy that has masculinized workplaces and constrained women's access to more powerful ranks in organizations.

To address the issue, the Korean government has passed legislation that promotes representation of women and prohibits discrimination against women in important personnel decisions and procedures (R. Kim, 1994). The legislation is, however, equivocal and does not provide detailed definitions of gender discrimination and discriminatory practices. There have been few court decisions or opinions to offer additional guidance for managers by clarifying and interpreting the statutory requirements in Korea. In sum, the governmental policy to end gender-based discrimination in employment has not only been superficial but also ineffective in correcting gender inequity in the workplaces. The United States, however, has enacted numerous case laws since the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Act of 1972. Furthermore, abundant scholarly research (e.g., Guy, 1992, 1993; Guy & Newman, 2004; Hale, 1996; H. Lips & Lawson, 2009; Naff, 1994; Newman, 1993, 1994; Riccucci, 2002, 2009) has shed light on the importance of gender equity in the workplace (e.g., equal opportunities for career advancement).

Our primary research interest is in analyzing barriers that prevent women's career advancement to higher ranks in the Korean government and comparing and contrasting them with the experiences of the American government. By doing so, we aim to generate a new policy idea that may enhance gender equity in public employment and personnel management in the Korean government. We assume that previous policies for equal employment in the Korean government were not successful in addressing gender equity in public employment. …