[Outlook]The age of women leadersThe first woman who does something is a popular news item for the media. In Korea, the word “yeo-pung,” literally meaning the wind of women, has been frequently used for several years. The media uses this term when women stand out in their fields.
The Samsung Economic Research Institute forecasts that by 2012 women leaders in politics, academics and the judiciary will account for more than 20 percent of the total. That means the number of women leaders in these fields will double by then.
The percentage of wemen among senior civil workers will be 15 and among executives of large-sized companies it will jump slightly from 3.5 to around 5 percent. The institute predicts a continuous wind of female leadership.
The first woman in a field sometimes remains nothing more than a symbol. But when women account for nearly 20 percent of a given sector, they have meaningful duties and roles that lead to the creation of more women leaders.
In the United States, it took 70 years for the percentage of women executives and supervisors to increase from 4 to 16 percent, but after that, the trend accelerated. We can also expect a similar acceleration in Korea.
However, an increase in the number of women does not necessarily lead to women leaders or allow them to develop their potential to the fullest, because people’s practices and thoughts do not change easily.
Prejudices against women ― such as the belief that it is hard to have a woman as a supervisor or that a woman’s main role is to take care of her family ― function as obstacles to having more women leaders.
In general, women are tender, emotional and sensitive. These characteristics are considered merits in personal relationships but the same traits are viewed as negative for leaders. Women with these characteristics are generally thought to be indecisive, lacking drive and unreasonable. The leadership [style] of Margaret Thatcher might have been the result of her efforts to survive in male-oriented environments.
At times, invisible walls are even more powerful than obvious obstacles. A glass ceiling stops women from advancing further than a given level and a glass wall excludes women from working in major departments.
But it is hard to prove the existence of these ceilings or walls because they are invisible.
If a women becomes a supervisor or an executive but cannot fulfill her duties because of invisible obstacles, the loss is greater than that suffered by that person. For that reason, the United States established the Glass Ceiling Commission in 1991.
This agency made sure that women got promoted to senior levels in business and decision-making, encouraged education on leadership and resisted possible gender discriminations in the incentive system based on evaluations.
Companies have made efforts too. The U.S. company Corning has fostered women leaders in the manufacturing sector. As a result, women account for 25 percent of heads of factories. The rate of moving to other companies has decreased by more than half. IBM formed numerous women’s organizations inside the company and gave workers education on leadership. The company publicized these efforts as a way to promote IBM’s image for innovation.
What’s most important is that women must do their best to have leadership. When the number of women leaders increases and they get promoted to senior levels, they tend to be kept in check more seriously. They are required to prove their competence and talent more strictly.
According to last year’s Fortune index of 500 large companies, the percentage of women executives increased only by 0.7 percent from 16.4 percent five years earlier. That demonstrates how hard it is for women to become leaders.
Carly Fiorina, the former chief executive officer of Hewlett Packard who was named as the world’s best woman CEO by Fortune magazine, said that leaders were not born but created. They become leaders only when they are equipped with competitiveness, personality and partnership, she said.
Women who are working to open new paths for leadership should bear this in mind.
*The writer is an editorial writer and staff writer on women’s affairs at the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Moon Kyung-ran