[FOUNTAIN]This country can’t afford a ‘glass ceiling’

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[FOUNTAIN]This country can’t afford a ‘glass ceiling’

A friend of mine who is a civil servant shared an interesting anecdote with me. A few years ago, he was transferred to a committee outside his agency. There, a woman who was about his age was a leader of another team, and he said he felt a little awkward dealing with her. He had never considered himself a male chauvinist, so he was surprised to find himself feeling this way. And this woman wasn’t even his direct supervisor.
One of the biggest obstacles to the economic participation of women, not just in Korea but elsewhere, is the male-oriented business culture. An American business consultant, Alice Sargent, famously coined the term “glass ceiling” to describe this phenomenon.
In January of 1987, Ms. Sargent told the Washington Post that women in corporate America were “bumping their heads on the glass ceiling. Women are looking up at the top and not making it into the boardroom or the executive suites.” In 1991, the U.S. government established the Glass Ceiling Commission to examine this problem, and to try to find ways to promote fairness in employment opportunity for women and for ethnic minorities.
Europe has strict regulations to prevent discrimination by gender or ethnicity. The European Parliament passed an anti-discrimination law earlier this year; the law, which bans discrimination by gender, race or ethnicity, handicap, sexual orientation, religious belief and age, will come into effect in 2006.
Norway recently went so far as to declare that companies whose boards are not 40-percent female by 2007 will be forced to close. The Norwegian government resorted to this extreme measure because women there make up just 11 percent of corporate board membership, even though the country had adopted the 40-percent-female requirement in 2002.
Compared to the American and European examples, corporate Korea has a long way to go. According to a Korea Labor Institute report, just 1.9 percent of executives at Korean companies are women. Less than 50 percent of Korean women are in the workforce.
Even though more than 30 percent of those who pass Korea’s various professional exams are women, the business atmosphere is still unfriendly to them. As the nation’s population ages and decreases, the female workforce will be soon be indispensable to economic development. Not just gender equality but simple economic necessity requires that the glass ceiling be broken. Men can no longer afford to feel awkward about having a female boss.


by Lee Se-jung

The writer is an editorial writer for the JoongAng Ilbo.

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