|Women have come a long way to almost equal men in schools and entry- level job markets in male-dominated Korea. But female executives are still a novelty in corporate boardrooms here, meaning they have even a longer way to go to make the most of their own _ and the nation’s _ growth potential. A recent study has reaffirmed the urgency of this matter.
The report, from McKinsey & Co., put Korea bottom of a list comparing the percentage of female board members in 744 company executive committees of 10 major Asia-Pacific stock markets. Women take up only 1 percent of boardroom seats in this country, compared with 13 percent in Australia, 8 percent in China and 5 percent in India.
Even sharper contrast between Korea and other parts of the world is seen when making comparisons with Europe (17 percent) and the United States (15 percent). Issues there are not dominated by how many women should be present in boardrooms but various other forms of discrimination, including pay levels, between male and female executives.
The poor female representation in Corporate Korea is disappointing but not surprising, considering that the nation is ranked 30 among 31 OECD members in terms of gender equality. Little wonder that the London-based Economist once described women as the ``most undervalued natural resource” in Korea.
Yet the situation here doesn’t permit one to just sympathize with sneering from the foreign media. In a country with one of the fastest graying populations and lowest birthrates in the world, failure to make the best use of a highly-educated, diligent and efficient work force poses the biggest threat to Korea’s growth potential in the future. In other words, the nation’s economy will depend on how far it can tap into the female work force, or womanpower.
In another report analyzing European businesses, McKinsey said firms with larger percentages of meticulous and transparent women executives showed excellent financial performances with operating profits up to 2.2 times higher than companies with lower percentages of female board members. Moreover, women in general are regarded as better at connecting the rational and emotional parts of brains than men, and are superior at multi-tasking, team-building and communicating, which are vital in the 21st-century corporate scenes.
Samsung Group Chairman Lee Kun-hee seemed to be aware of these research results when he encouraged the appearance of more female CEOs within his conglomerate and other groups.
Even if Lee appoints a few female CEOs to Samsung subsidiaries in the near future, however, this will amount to mere tokenism. If the nation’s most famous tycoon takes the lead by introducing a boardroom quota system for women, he would open up a new chapter in Korea’s industrial history. And if he implements a flexible work system to help women handle the double burden of pursuing careers and managing household duties, including childcare, Samsung will make another jump.
Some worry about the relative disadvantage women have in informal networking. That should rather be a blessing for Korea Inc., considering that immoderate wining, dining and flirting with women by male leaders are behind rampant corruption and other bad business practices here.
Major business groups should hurry to smash the glass ceiling. Nothing less than the nation’s economic future is at stake.
7월 5일 (목) The Korea Times 사설