Predicament of working women

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Predicament of working women

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At first, I wondered if it was really about Korean companies. The Federation of Korea Industries released a report on work-life balance and system at the top 500 companies on Oct. 4, and 83.2 percent of the companies had a female workforce program. Nearly eight out of 10 companies, 78 percent, offered maternity and childcare support programs that exceeded legal standards. They are mostly doing very well, so why do working women and mothers still struggle? Are they simply whining?

The reasons can be found in the report. Most companies responded that they have female workforce training programs (30.9 percent, multiple responses) and consultation bodies such as a committee to create female-friendly working environments (23 percent). Relatively few companies have programs that lead to substantial utilization of the female work force such as hiring women whose career had been discontinued (18.8 percent), setting a quota for women in the hiring process (16.8 percent) and quotas for promotion (11 percent).

In fact, there are not many programs for female workers at large conglomerates. Most of them are the “female leadership” aspiration events and women’s networking events, which have become a fad in the last few years. A female executive would speak to the female workers on her secret to maintain work-life balance and listen to their concerns. But it didn’t seem to help to nurture female leaders as the percentage of female executives at major corporations remains the same, 2.3 percent according to the Ministry of Gender Equality. Such events also exclude women who are not married or have no children.

The maternity and childcare support is also dubious. Six in 10 companies classify “installation of women’s lounge” (59.7%) as a childcare support program. A lounge is a necessary space for all workers. It is regrettable that the company thinks that a lounge would help work-life balance. Only 41.4 percent of the companies had flexible work hours, which female workers with young children find most useful.

“It was really hard to work, barely using vacation days and annual leave to care for my child. Many of the co-workers would be able to overcome the temptation to quit if there were more variety of work hours,” said a female executive. She said that it got easier after her child entered middle school this year.

Companies are still suspected of perceiving maternity and childcare issues as the responsibility of women.

Industry insiders say that few men apply for paternity leave. It takes great courage for a man to take a leave to care for a child. If a company really values work-life balance, the fixed idea of associating child care with women should be expanded to parental duty. Until then, the predicament of working women will not improve.

JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 5, Page 29


*The author is an industry news reporter at the JoongAng Ilbo.

JEON YEONG-SEON

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