[EDITORIALS]Korea needs working womenOn Wednesday, the Ministry of Labor unveiled a proposal for improving the law governing gender equality in employment, promising financial support for the firms with strong records of hiring women. We expect the plan to encourage female employment. It will have significant social impact because it aims mainly at state-run firms and companies with more than 1,000 employees, which are much-desired places to work.
Unless it makes use of its female workforce, Korea will have a hard time crossing the threshold of a $20,000 per capita gross national product. With a birthrate of only 1.19, the country is rapidly aging, and the labor force is seriously lacking. Making the most of its female workforce is the best way to cope with this situation.
Despite Korea’s obsession with education, a strange trend has been apparent: Women with advanced degrees have been finding it harder to get jobs. This was demonstrated in a 2003 report from the National Statistical Office. The report found that the employment rates of men and women with college degrees differed by 28.1 percentage points. Among those with only high school degrees, the gap was 25.9 percentage points; for those below elementary school degrees, it was 18.8 percentage points.
To date, companies have been saying that female employees generate losses, because they tend to end their careers because of children. Women themselves have a different story: They say they are not given important responsibilities at work, and leave because they have come up against the “glass ceiling.”
It is evident that Korea has far fewer women in management than other countries do. The Ministry of Labor’s revision bill would require companies to report the female-to-male ratio at each level of the workforce to the government, which would give the government the statistics it needs to identify the problems.
The ministry says it wants to implement incentives to achieve gender equality, such as corporate tax cuts and advantages in bidding for government contracts. Offering more incentives to large firms and state-run enterprises, which have relatively high stability and profitability, may hinder fair competition. But to reshape Korea’s attitude toward female workers, those affirmative measures are essential for the time being, at least until female employment reaches a certain level.