updated 11 Mar 2009, 12:13
    Powered by
user id password
Sun, Mar 08, 2009
The Korea Herald/ANN
EmailPrintDecrease text sizeIncrease text size
Breaking through the glass ceiling
by Choi He-suk

Although women remain grossly underrepresented in executive level positions in Korean companies, an increasing number of women are breaking into male-dominated arenas.

According to industry sources, the number of female executives at local firms has increased significantly during the past two years.

More notable Korean female executives include KTF chief finance officer Cho Wha-joon and CJ Entertainment chief executive Katharine Kim.

Kim, who took the post earlier this year, is the first woman to be appointed as the CEO of a company affiliated to one of the country's top 30 conglomerates, who has no blood relations to the founding families. Aside from Kim, there are three other female executives at various CJ Group affiliates.

CJ Group is not alone in promoting female employees to the executive level. LG Group affiliates, including LG Electronics, have a total of 15 executives, including vice president Choi Myung-wha.

"Large companies have come to a point where they need fresh, innovative views and women can provide this, which is the reason companies are introducing female leaders," Choi told The Korea Herald.

"I don't think the lack of female executives is the result of biases against women. There aren't as many female executives because women have been less desperate than men, making women fall behind in competition with men."

The retail giant GS Retail also promoted a female employee to executive level for the first time last year, while its affiliate GS Home Shopping brought in two female executives last year.

Last year also saw two executive positions filled by women at the cosmetics maker Amore Pacific.

The advance of women was also noticed at various pharmaceutical companies including Hanmi Pharm and Choong Wae Pharma Corp., where two or three women were promoted to the executive ranks during the past two years.

However, women's chances of being promoted to the top of the country's largest conglomerates still remain slim.

Among Hyundai Kia Automotive Group's 38 affiliates, the advertising company Innocean is the only one to have a female executive.

With the exception of its chairwoman Hyun Jeong-eun and her daughter Chung Ji-ee, there are no female executives at Hyundai Group.

"There still are barriers and biases but conditions seem to have improved. Women are still the minority in this male-dominated society. People, whether they are men or women, don't like new things and having a woman in charge is a new thing," KTF CFO Cho Wha-joon told The Korea Herald.

She added that when a company needs to reduce its workforce, married women whose husbands also work tend to be the first to go.

"The biggest obstacle is childcare. The burden of childcare is placed on women; even I think the mother is better equipped for childcare than the father."

While female executives are slowly breaking down the barriers for women at top corporate positions, other traditionally male-dominated professions such as securities analysts have also seen a significant increase in female professionals in recent years.

According to the Korea Financial Investment Association, 27.8 percent or 387 of 1,393 analysts registered with the association as of last year were female.

Although women may still be underrepresented, the number of female analysts has increased at a rate higher than that for the total number of analysts in Korea. In 2005, there were 607 analysts, of whom 21.9 percent, or about 139, were women.

While the total number of analysts increased by about 229 percent by 2008, the number of female analysts has risen by about 280 percent over the same period. 

readers' comments

Copyright © 2009 Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Co. Regn. No. 198402868E. All rights reserved.