Korea's Search for Gender Equality and Women's Career Growth

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

We examine the role of governments in individual's career development via a sample of Korean women workers. Some government acts have expanded Korean women's career opportunities; these include the ratification of laws such as a quota system for hiring women and maternity leave legislation. On the other hand, the lack of workplace laws such as those promoting equal employment opportunities, equal pay, and denouncing sexual harassment, as well as stringent educational laws and the influx of foreign corporations have restricted women's opportunities in the Korean labor market.

INTRODUCTION

Governments are a significant player in any effort by society to adjust for changes in circumstance and environment. In this role of policy maker and initiator, a government helps shape the society it governs, and its associated organizations, via the various laws, policies, programs, and institutions it creates. Governments can impact more elaborate human activity as well, such a person's ability to practice religion or establish and operate a small business. In this paper, we choose to study the impact of government on one such complex human process - individual's career development.

Some studies document the importance of more macro-level processes in shaping individual's career paths, such as increased life spans, declining birth rates (Astin, 1984) and shifts in key social organizations such as the Social Security Agency (Mitchell & Krumboltz, 1990). However, the government, while sometimes viewed as one of several key macro-level influences on career development (cf., Super, 1990; Mitchell & Krumboltz, 1990), has received little focused attention. In this paper we examine this issue in detail, by studying how Korean workers' careers are shaped by their governing body. We aim to investigate that issue by providing both an analysis of the actions of the Korean government and evidence from a sample of women workers in Korea. We have chosen to focus our model on women workers only, due to wide-ranging support for the idea that the paths of women's and men's careers are differently shaped by environmental forces (Gallos, 1989; Melamed, 1996).

KOREAN GOVERNMENT'S ACTIONS AND WOMEN'S CAREERS

The Korean government, like many countries, has recently made efforts to provide career opportunities for women. This issue, referred to as "gender equality" by the Korean government, has been a focus for governments in many other countries as well. Japan, England, South Africa, and Canada are all struggling with the challenge to develop opportunities for women ("Government to Launch Panel," 2001; "Present Status of Gender Equality," 2000; Gender Roles," 1998; "Government Urged to Take Lead," 2000; "Survey Highlights Inequality," 1999; "Achieving Gender Equality," 1996).

Korea has taken many steps to improve gender equality. Among those are the creation of the Presidential Commission for Women's Affairs, acceptance of the Women's Development Act (1995) and a Five Year Basic Plan for implementation (with the United Nations Development Program), the creation of the Ministry of Gender Equality (2000), a quota system for employing women and a pooling system of preferential hiring for qualified women in government positions (1997), declaring an annual Women's Week (1996), adopting the 21sc Century Gender Equality Charter (2001), declaring Equal Employment Week (2001), and passing such laws as the Gender Discrimination Prevention and Relief Law (1996), and the Framework Law on Women's Development (1999).

Of those actions, perhaps the most significant is the development of the Ministry of Gender Equality. President Kirn Dae-Jung identifies this action as one of his most important achievements, along with winning the Nobel Peace Prize, during his term in office (Kim, 2001). The Ministry is charged with handling discrimination issues as well as developing policies to improve opportunities for women. …