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Glass ceiling remains in S. Korea's big firms

All News 10:18 August 29, 2011

SEOUL, Aug. 29 (Yonhap) -- South Korean women working for big companies remain at a disadvantage in getting promotions despite calls for more female CEOs and senior managers, a report by a local think tank said Monday.

The Korean Women's Development Institute (KWDI) said that as of late last year, the percentage of senior corporate executive jobs held by women at companies with over 1,000 employees, stood at 4.7 percent of all posts.

It said the percentage represented a sharp gain from just 1.5 percent in 2007, but way below levels tallied in advanced industrialized economies such as the United States, Sweden and Finland.

According to Catalyst, an international nonprofit organization that aims to expand opportunities for women, the number of U.S. women CEOs and senior executives accounted for 15.7 percent of all posts in conglomerates, with numbers for Sweden and Finland reaching 27.3 percent and 24.5 percent, respectively.

The KWDI, which surveyed 341 companies, also said that because there are so few women in top management positions most women workers do not aspire to become CEOs. It said a study showed only 22.6 percent of all female workers aimed for top posts compared to 46 percent of their male counterparts.

"Because there are very few successful role models, many women are satisfied with lower positions," the think tank said. It pointed out that even in Samsung Electronics Co., the world's largest memory chipmaker, the number of women senior managers totaled 34 or 1.9 percent of 1,760 managerial positions within the company.

The latest research, in addition, showed the number of women CEOs and presidents of companies reached 2.1 percent in 2010, with the percentage going up to 10 percent for managers and 16.1 percent for vice manager-level employees.

The KWDI report added that both women and men believed that discrimination existed in the workplace, with 31.5 percent of female workers saying they have been passed over in promotions and not given positions that could help them rise in the corporate hierarchy. About 24 percent of male workers agreed that women were at a disadvantage in terms of promotions and evaluations.

It said that 71.9 percent of women believed that the "male-oriented" nature of South Korea's corporate culture hindered promotions. This includes long hours devoted to making so-called personnel networks that can help promotions and attending long after-hour dinners and drinking sessions.

Other causes cited for the slower promotions of women vis-a-vis men are the burden of raising children, which mostly falls on women in the country.

"Taking time off or getting off work early to take care of children hurts promotions," the report said.

Meanwhile, related to the need to give equal opportunities to women, Samsung Electronics chairman Lee Kun-hee, said last Tuesday that women should be given a chance to become CEOs.

He said that allowing women to become CEOs will allow them to show off their abilities to leading companies.

The remark is seen as a sign of change being pushed forward at the workplace, but also testament to the reality that discriminations exist and need to be overcome.

yonngong@yna.co.kr
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