Women’s shameful struggle
There is an unfortunate expression about the age of women in South Korea. People say that the age of a woman is like a “Christmas cake” - they are freshest at 24, ideal at 25, and of low quality at 26, 27 and so on. Surprisingly, this is applies to Korean workplaces as well. Yes, we are talking about workplaces of the 21st century.
According to a survey taken in 2013, 44.3 percent of 533 human resources managers think a woman’s age is a Rubicon when it comes to applying for jobs, with 26 years being the most preferred age. About 24 percent of these HR managers admitted that they had deliberately deducted points for female applicants who were older than 30. Some resumes are simply eliminated with one criterion: age. Narrow doors of employment have become even narrower for women of viable working age.
Why would companies reject older females who are perhaps more experienced and professional? This discrimination is justified by saying that older female workers are less efficient because they tend to have problems adjusting to a changing work environment. But this is not the only reason. In fact, the underlying reason for such discrimination is closely related with pregnancy and company-related costs.
In Korean companies, it is not rare to see women get fired before their maternity leave. Women are devastated by their companies’ unjust behaviors.
“Mothers are forced to quit their jobs as they are unable to take care of their children,” said Cho Yoon-sun, minister for gender equality and family.
The company takes it as a great disadvantage to let female employees leave for childbirth. A survey by Saramin.co.kr, Korea’s largest job search website, found that 72.1 percent of 402 companies feel uncomfortable when a temporary vacuum is caused because of maternity leave. They argue that they are wasting company resources and capital on the void made by pregnant workers.
The United States has also suffered from pregnancy-related discrimination, with charges jumping by 35 percent in the last 10 years. But the United States has acted fast to deal with the matter. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) established a task force made up of members of the U.S. Department of Labor, the Department of Justice and the Office of Personnel Management to further examine the issue. They enforced existing laws and provided guidance to employers on how to comply with them.
On the other hand, the Korean government’s actions to alleviate the problem are deficient compared to other countries. It was only this March that the government banned companies from directly stating the age limits on their employment notices as a part of the antidiscrimination act. Yet many companies are still imposing illegal pressure on women of age.
Every year, a quarter-million of highly educated female students graduate college in Korea in hopes of pursuing their careers and finding a stable job. It is outrageous to limit their opportunities exclusively because of their age. It is about time that companies and the government gave women the chance they rightfully deserve.
*Lee Ji-min, Student at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies