Gender Discrimination Harms Korea's Competitiveness

      March 31, 2010 10:55

      A survey of 1,000 Korean adults by the Labor Ministry found that 60.4 percent of women viewed gender discrimination at work as a serious problem, and 37.1 percent of women with work experience said they had suffered gender discrimination in the workplace. Some 32.5 percent of female respondents said they were paid less than their male counterparts, 26.3 percent said they had been discriminated against in promotions, and 15 percent said they had experienced disadvantage in assignments or transfers.

      A report released last year by the OECD found that the wage gap between men and women in Korea was 38 percent, the largest among the 30 member countries and more than twice the OECD average of 18.8 percent. The gap cannot be blamed only on differences in skill levels. This year, 63 out of 89 new court justices appointed in Korea were women. This fact shows that women can excel in fields where there is equal opportunity.

      As of the end of 2008, only 54.7 percent of Korean women were part of the workforce, ranking the country third from the bottom in the OECD. It is difficult for women to compete in the workplace and raise children at the same time. When forced to choose between the two, many women opt to put off having children. This means gender discrimination ends up lowering the nation's birthrate, which is the lowest in the world.

      The low birthrate problem cannot be resolved simply by giving some supportive incentives to women who have children. Women must be allowed to work without worrying about discrimination, and be given equal chances for promotion. With the workforce shrinking as the number of senior citizens rises, one way to deal with the problem is to encourage more women to take jobs.

      Korea's work environment must be changed to allow more women to attain influential positions. The number of female public servants increases each year, but only 7.6 percent of high-ranking positions are held by women. Korea is the only G20 member country where women are virtually nonexistent in top management. As a host country of the G20 Summit, this is something Korea should be ashamed of.

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