Shattering the glass ceilingWomen’s power is becoming a force to be reckoned with in the information technology industry. It is already widely known that there are more female professionals in the IT industry than any other. Lately, there has been an exceptional surge in the number of women climbing the corporate ladder to become executives at their respective IT firms.
Shortly after the IT boom in the late 1990s, the industry’s female workforce boomed, contributing significantly to women’s employment rates. As the female workforce establishes itself in the IT industry, the sight of a female boss and a male employee working together has become more common. This industry is breaking the male-dominated corporate mold.
Among Korean conglomerates, LG claims the highest percentage of women executives. Top female executives, all directors, include Yun Yeo-sun of LG Academy, the group training center; Kim Jin of LG Electronics Design Research center; Song Kyeong-hee of LG Household & Health Care and Lee Suk-yeong of LG CNS.
Nearly 20 percent of professionals employed by LG CNS are women. The LG division attributes its high female workforce level to the performance-based work ethic and corporate culture espoused since its founding in 1987. The firm has also found women’s meticulousness a major boon in systems integration projects, which require significant attention to details.
Women’s ascension within the IT ranks also may be a consequence of the industry makeup, say experts. Many such firms in Korea are foreign-owned, and have an established history of equality in their workplace.
The younger average age of IT industry CEOs compared to their counterparts in other fields may be another factor; their generational culture makes them more amenable to promoting women into leadership positions than Koreans in their 50s and older.
The president of Samsung SDS, Kim In, says that 30 percent of 10,000 new jobs to be added to the company will be filled by women.
Lee Suk-yeong was the first female executive at LG CNS. As for being the sole female executive in the systems integration field, Ms. Lee says, “I think I opened the gates. Female employees at our firm are reassessing their vision. In surveys, more women are aspiring to become top executives. And this in turn is inducing them to work harder with a mission.”
Some females who have risen the corporate ladder believe a double standard is applied to men and women in assessing their talents.
“Men are judged by their networking skills, by their golf and alumnae links along with their performance, but women are evaluated solely by their competence,” says Park Jyung-hwa, the first female executive in IBM Korea’s 36-year history. “In the IT industry, where technical skills are a key component, I think there is less discrimination compared with other industries.”
Ji Mi-gyeong, a director at Oracle Korea, contends that the delicate and exacting nature of IT work falls nicely into line with women’s working styles. On the other hand, the field’s irregular work schedule can wreak havoc with their personal lives. “It’s hard to balance home and work,” says Ms. Ji. “How one deals with this issue will determine one’s professional success.”
Lee Suk-yeong, with LG CNS, had some advice for women who were struggling to balance work with day care and family issues. “The period when kids need their mothers’ care is shorter than one thinks. Use a helper. It’s vital to outsource in this respect.”
At least one common thread binds these successful women executives: They are all workaholics. To reach a position that is hard for even men to attain requires a woman to work harder than her male colleagues. Also, it is critical to have the support of other family members.
We spoke with some female IT executives to discuss their trials in ascending the corporate ladder, their workplace environments, and to seek their advice to aspiring women employees. Although these women have different personal and academic backgrounds, they share similarities in their sense of pride, their passion, and their challenging spirit that enabled them to reach high levels in a male-dominated society.
A work ethic never altered
Lee Suk-yeong, the only female executive in the systems integration industry, is at the helm of LG CNS’s technology business. Despite the hard work needed to get where she is, Ms. Lee asserts “I have never been obsessed with climbing the corporate ladder.” Ms. Lee says the one thing she wants to hear the most is “LG CNS makes a difference.”
She does not go out of her way to assert women’s equality. In fact, she contends that in the realm of charisma, men clearly hold an advantage. And she feels that women are inferior when it comes to implementing projects. But in terms of creating team unity and voluntarily pursuing initiatives, women are stronger, she says. When Ms. Lee joined the firm in 1984, she was charged with cleaning male colleagues’ cigarette dishes. She does not regret such behavior. “Do not eschew any task; accept it willingly, and do not limit yourself.”
Heavy burden for a pioneer
Park Jyung wha, who joined IBM Korea in 1982, today manages the marketing arm of IBM Korea as the company’s only female executive. To reach this stage, she passed through software development, software strategic planning, sales, service and customer relations management departments.
She exhibited talent in the sales arena, but moved to marketing at the request of top management, who were determined to strengthen the company’s capabilities there. “Being able to do something new is a challenge for me,” says Ms. Park, adding that “as the first female executive, I feel a heavy burden on my shoulders, but I am determined to upgrade the status of Korean female employees within IBM.”
Ms. Park lauds the company’s progressive attitude toward women employees.
“IBM provides various systems and mechanisms to prevent discrimination,” she says.
A lawyer, she took a chance
Ms. Park has headed Locus Corp’s wireless Internet business since joining the business two years ago. In that brief span, she has successfully acquired a Chinese wireless Internet company, a first in Korea; developed a multimedia messaging service with SK Telecom, and forged export links to Israel, Japan and Mongolia. Such accomplishments are a tall order even for a conglomerate.
After earning a business degree at Syracuse University in New York, Ms. Park worked for healthcare company Baxter International Inc. as a marketing manager and pursued a law degree. She returned to Korea in 1997 and joined Kim & Chang, Korea’s largest law firm. It was at this time that she became acquainted with Kim Hyeong-sun, the president of Locus Corp., and was recruited.
“I took the chance because it was something I wanted to do and was good at,” she says. “I can be a lawyer anytime.”
by Lee Jong-hwa