Evaluation Submitted to the United States State Department and the US Embassy, South Korea
Recognizing Women and Building Business Success in South Korea:
Maximizing Talent, Minimizing Barriers
August 2010 - Audrey Nelson PhD
Dr. Audrey Nelson addressed the importance of “inclusion” of women in the business setting in order to leverage South Korea’s female talent pool. An emphasis on the importance of developing critical gender relationships may enhance an awareness of gender equality and raise the prospects for building a broadly based talent pool of mid-level women in the business setting. Cultural awareness and an appreciation for the difference between male – female styles can lead to significant benefits in the business community, if implemented. Gender based diversity and a full understanding of how “inclusion” works was the focus of Dr. Nelson’s message.
Understanding how negative gender related workplace dynamics undermine the full participation of women combined with a focused awareness of how differently men and women communicate is extremely important in order to prevent gender differences from leading to resentment, decreased productivity and workplace stress. Although Korean women tend to be exceptionally well educated, with one of the highest education levels according to the Organization for Economic and Cooperative Development (OECD), their economic participation is at or near the bottom of the OECD.
Korea’s treatment of women remains far behind the nation’s economic/political influence on the economic world stage. The crux of the gender problem is a culturally based lack of effective, respectful communication among men and women in Korea. The rapid increase of women in the workforce has only exacerbated gender tensions and conflict, emphasizing the need for the development of better communication skills. The objective of this speaker program was to provide Korean audiences with the opportunity to hear from a U.S. expert on gender and how Korea might gain from developing gender awareness programs to enhance communication in the Korean business setting. Dr. Nelson touched on ways to assist Koreans in the development of communication tools to narrow the gap between Korean women’s desire to contribute in the workplace versus their actual treatment in the workplace. Given their high level of education and lofty credentials, Korean businesses need to make more of an effort at inclusion, participation and treatment of women in the workplace.
Dr. Nelson addressed a wide range of women interested in improving gender relations and communications including judges, a college president and faculty members, as well as various advocacy groups. Below are summaries of their reactions, questions and concerns:
- There was a universal quality to Korean women’s concerns: how do women develop a voice, while dealing with societal “tradition” that emphasizes the home and a subservient attitude when in mixed company? Although Confucian doctrine has served as a guide to women’s roles in gender relationships, the need for change is evident. More laws and protections for women are needed to balance women’s rights in the home and at work.
- There was an awareness that Korea falls about 20 years behind the advances of the U.S. and other industrialized nations in gender relationships.
- Korean women are ambitious and demonstrated a determination to improve their status. Instead of viewing the workplace as a dead end women want to develop careers and think in longer terms when it comes to the workplace experience.
- In spite of the fact that Korea is one of the world’s leading economies, South Korea ranked 115th in the World Economic Forum’s 2009 Index of gender equality. A working group composed of representatives from Korea’s “Fortune 50” companies could organize and focus on a set of guidelines and human resource policies to promote and enhance the retention and advancement of women in the business setting. In addition, the development of standards for the prevention of sexual harassment of women is equally important. If Korea wants to remain globally competitive, it must take action on these issues.
- In 2007, South Korea had the lowest rate of employment for women with college degrees of all OECD countries. Recruitment policies and procedures should be investigated and recommendations made in order to increase women’s participation in the workplace, especially in the private sector.
- Women do not even represent 2% of the seats on the boards of South Korea’s four largest corporations. The same working group could set strategic plans to increase these numbers.
- From a developmental perspective, Korean women have minimal exposure to gender communication training. Almost all groups expressed a strong desire for this training.
- Although the government understands the need for educated women into the work force and recognizes the positive effect on both the economy, more informational and educational sessions among members of the National Assembly could be helpful. Support for a women’s lobby is important.