South Korean Women Taking Over Government
Should people be hired based on their sex or based on their ability to perform the job?
In 1992, a larger number of Korean women than ever before passed the foreign service examination – three! Yes, foreign service was a man’s world in South Korea – and in many other countries as well.
Fast forward to 2010 when 55% of the 151 people who passed this same exam were women.
The Foreign Ministry is not the only governmental department that is seeing more and more women in the ranks. In 2009, 47% of the people who passed the exam to become midlevel governmental officials were women, compared to 3.2% in 1992.
Unfortunately, the same is not happening in private business where highly educated women are still fighting the glass ceiling. Private businesses are moving slow when it comes to hiring women for anything other than low-level service or factory jobs.
But Korean women will not be held down. And with the government leading the way in gender equality, private business will eventually catch up. In fact, the government has revised hundreds of laws in order to force private business to follow suit regarding gender equality, whether they want to or not.
For example, in 2005, women’s rights groups made a big advance. South Korea’s Constitutional Court eliminated provisions in the Civil Code that said the legal head of a household could only be a man.
“Our strategy has been to change the laws and institutions first so the rest of the society can catch up in changing attitudes and culture in favor of gender equality,” said Chung Bong-hyup, Director General of the Ministry of Gender Equality, established in 2001.
As long as the government continues to get the best female candidates, private business is missing out on the valuable input that women would bring to the table. But it’s unlikely that private business will lag behind too long.
When male-dominated companies see the benefit that women are bringing to the business of government, they won’t waste too much time in attracting the best-qualified candidates, whether they are male or female. It just makes good business sense.