Gender (In)equality in Korean Firms: Results from Stakeholders Interviews

By Patterson, Louise; Bae, Seong | Journal of Organizational Culture, Communications and Conflict, January 2013 | Go to article overview

Gender (In)equality in Korean Firms: Results from Stakeholders Interviews


Patterson, Louise, Bae, Seong, Journal of Organizational Culture, Communications and Conflict


INTRODUCTION

Despite legal improvements in women's rights since 1988 and increased access to education in the past fifty years for women, female labor participation in Korea as of 2011 stood at 49.2%, one of the lowest rates for an OECD country (Korean National Statistical Office (KNSO) 2011). In 2010, young Korean women surpassed males in attaining higher education, but they have not made proportionate advances in employment equity (Eun and Yoon 2010; Joo and Lee 2009). Existing literature suggests that cultural explanations have greatly influenced the characteristics of Korean human resource management in Korean firms, their executives, and their organizational cultures. This research will add to the existing body of knowledge by providing additional evidence through the findings where discrimination is most likely. Through in-depth interviews with stakeholders in Korean firms, the researchers will (1) identify the causes for gender workforce imbalances within Korea; (2) determine why women are downsized more often than men and how this differs from elsewhere, and (3) investigate the form(s) gender discrimination takes within Korean organizations, and why legal measures have not corrected the social and organizational attitudes that hinder career progress and foster discrimination based on gender stereotyping, incomplete information, and a traditional, paternalistic organizational culture.

The purpose of this paper is to ascertain why this phenomenon continues despite the high educational attainment of Korean women. Interviews of key stakeholder groups, public, private, and non-profit organizations, about employee relations within Korean organizations with a focus on gender division were conducted to illuminate the under-utilization of Korean females within Korean firms. After exploring the literature, this paper outlines the approach and methodology and concludes with a discussion of the findings.

LITERATURE REVIEW

Feminist literature has discussed this subject for over twenty-five years. Neo-liberalism, with its emphasis on the importance of individual "choice" for the work environment, has attempted to explain women's decisions about work (Cha and Thebaud 2009; Crompton and Lyonette 2005; Standing 1999). Women are said to be less likely than men to participate in the labor force because of demographic, social, legal, and cultural trends and norms (Pan 2002; Elder and Johnson 1999). Neoliberalist policies force women to accept lower average wages and average earnings than men in most occupations in most countries because they emphasize "choice" (Walby, Gottfried, Gottschall, and Osawa 2007). Neo-liberalism concludes that outcomes result from individual choices.Korean society's attitude is that women choose to stay at home due to Confucian values, instead of participating in the work force (Joo 2008; Chun 2007).

According to various feminist theories, women are temporary, supplementary, pliant, patient, and cheap labor (or labor made cheap) (Pettman 2003; Beechey and Perkins 1988; Bruegel 1979), and globalization is rapidly increasing the demand for women's labor. The three most important theoriesof gender relations are the male breadwinner, gendered politics, and the gender regime, which will be assessed in the context of the Korean workplace (Walby et al. 2007; Turner and Monk 2007; Ridgeway and Cornell 2006; Lee, Roehl and Choe 2000; England 1992; Crompton and Sanderson 1990). These ideologies state: 1) in the male breadwinner model, Marxist feminists see gender inequality as part of social class inequality and the capitalistic market system of production that creates social class inequality and women's economic dependence on men (Lee et al. 2000); 2) gender politics refers to the historical exclusion of women from public roles, power, and citizenship (Walby 1988; Klein 1984); and 3) organizations are posited to have "gender regimes," e.g., internal structures, processes, and beliefs that place women and men in different tasks and positions in which there is a systematic interrelationship between different dimensions of gender relations (Acker 2006; Pan 2002; Blackburn, Browne, Brooks, and Jarman 2002). …

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