Women Smash Glass Ceiling in Foreign Service

  • By Ahn Jun-yong

    September 19, 2018 08:52

    Women outnumber men among successful candidates in the foreign-service exam, and their numbers are still growing.

    In this year's test, whose results were announced last Thursday, 27 of the 45 successful applicants were women. The youngest was a 22-year-old woman.

    The proportion of successful female candidates peaked at 70.7 percent in 2016, dropped to 51.2 percent last year, but rose again to 60 percent this year. All the candidates will go through a year's training at the Korea National Diplomatic Academy.

    Given the increasing proportion of women, the Foreign Ministry could become the first government agency with gender parity at the top. It already has its first female foreign minister, Kang Kyung-wha, and the overall ratio of women to men has increased sharply from 29.3 percent in 2012 to 37.1 percent last year.

    The number of senior female officers like division and bureau chiefs is also increasing rapidly. As of late last year, 15 of the ministry's 72 division chiefs were women. The number of women in the top ranks is still small at 11 out of 290, but more women are being promoted all the time.

    And the increase is changing the work culture. "We now have fewer chances to have after-work drinks as the proportion of women and the number of female division and bureau chiefs is increasing. A distinct line is being drawn between official and private matters," a male foreign service officer said. "Now we don't have to work needless overtime, and we feel freer to stop work for the day and take a vacation when we want."

    But personnel officials are complaining that it is difficult to find substitutes for female diplomats who take maternity leave.

    There had also been grumbling from male officers that women were reluctant to work at overseas missions in remote or troubled areas. But a female officer in her 30s denied it. "It's an old wives' tale," she said. "In fact many female officers are raising children alone overseas, away from their husbands."

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