Silence of the Korean alpha girlsFacebook COO Sheryl Sandberg has said that women tend to lose their ambition once they get a job, and that the glass ceiling is a limit created by women themselves. Erin Callan, former chief financial officer at Lehman Brothers, said that she worked for over two decades and became addicted to her Blackberry, adding that she regrets not having children. And Princeton University professor Anne-Marie Slaughter said women “are not to blame if they cannot manage to rise up the ladder as fast as men and also have a family and an active home life.”
These American “alpha girls” are having a lively public debate on what it means to be a working woman. Sandberg, 43, recently published “Lean In,” and her perspective is the template for the very few women who have risen up to the top of male-dominated organizations.
Slaughter, 55, is the first woman to serve as the director of policy planning for the U.S. State Department, and is Sandberg’s strongest opponent. She revealed her experience of quitting the high-profile government position after two years to be with her teenage children. She said, “Secretary Clinton deliberately came in around 8 a.m. and left around 7 p.m., to allow her close staff to have morning and evening time with their families,” but she could not keep up the work-life balance.
Erin Callan, 47, was the Wall Street “golden girl,” but in response to Sandberg’s “Lean In,” she made a confession about her financial career in an op-ed contribution to the New York Times. She wrote that her glorious success came with price. Regardless of who’s right and wrong, these women are actively sharing their experiences with other women.
This is the beginning of a more in-depth discussion on why corporate life is more challenging for women, if there can be any structural improvements, why women are expected to bear most of the burden of the work-life balance, if there’s any solution other than the support of a spouse, and if we need any further social paradigm changes.
In The Economist’s “Glass Ceiling Index,” Korea was ranked lowest among OECD member countries. This is the reality in Korea, even though the president is a woman. A quota for female executives can’t solve this problem. Successful women, who are role models for aspiring young women, need to share their frustrations, failures and regrets to make the discussion on the glass ceiling more active. Not one female leader in Korea has made an honest confession.
In any success story, the problems converge on a personal level, when what we really need are changes in society. Minister of Gender Equality and Family Cho Yoon-sun can be the first to share her experience. We want to hear from one of the most notable alpha girls in Korea how the mother of two handles her career as minister and lawmaker at the National Assembly after serving as lawyer at a major law firm.
*The author is a writer of the JoongAng Sunday.
by Ki Sun-min