A group of lawmakers submitted a bill on Sunday seeking to boost the number of female executives in state-run companies to 30 percent within the next five years. If the bill is passed by the National Assembly, all public enterprises must voluntarily increase the number of women in top management positions to 15 percent within three years and beyond 30 percent within five.
The proportion of women who go to university rose from 31.9 percent in 1990 to 80.5 percent in 2010, the highest in the OECD. But over the same period, the so-called economic participation of women increased only from 49.9 percent to 54.5 percent, putting Korea third from the bottom in the OECD. In other words, Korean women are rarely able to put their advanced education into practice.
Even if women manage to get a job, they face a glass ceiling. Women have been making huge strides in passing notoriously tough state exams to become government officials, diplomats, judges and prosecutors and rising through the ranks of private companies. But the proportion of women in senior government jobs is a laughable 3.7 percent, and an even more absurd 1.48 percent in management in the nation's top 100 business conglomerates. In state-run companies, the proportion of women in senior jobs translates statistically into zero.
In Norway, 39.5 percent of executive positions in large private companies are held by women, in Sweden 27.3 percent and in the U.S. 15.7 percent. Korea's future depends on how effectively it manages to use highly educated female workers. The government must shoulder some of the burden women face in having and raising children and help them shatter the glass ceiling at work.
Norway implemented a quota for female managers in 2003 for the first time in the world to get to where it is today. France followed suit in 2010 and was able to boost the ratio of female managers from 12 to 22 percent in just two years.
There may be both skepticism and criticism of the target of 30 percent of top positions in state-run companies for women. But the most important thing is to take the first step toward that goal. If women are given an equal chance to compete with men in terms of promotions, placements and evaluations, they will give a strong boost to Korea as a whole.