Posted : 2013-12-25 16:32
Updated : 2013-12-25 16:32

Women are taking charge

Industrial Bank of Korea CEO-designate Kwon Seon-joo
Seoul High Prosecutors' Court Deputy Prosecutor General Cho Hee-jin
Bank of Korea Deputy Governor Suh Young-kyung
Busan Metropolitan
Police Agency Commissioner Lee Keum-hyung
Oceans and Fisheries Minister Yoon Jin-sook
Gender Equality and Family Minister Cho Yoon-sun
Hotel Shilla CEO Lee Bu-jin
Prudential Life Korea
President Sohn Byoung-ok
By Kim Rahn, Kim Jae-won

The Korea Times had three women's photos appear on the upper half of the front page of its Tuesday edition.

The three were President Park Geun-hye, Korea Railroad Corp. (KORAIL) CEO Choi Yeon-hye and Kwon Seon-joo, the new CEO of Industrial Bank of Korea (IBK).

Besides being the same gender, the three have one more thing in common, being the first women in their respective jobs. And if you put the three together, a bigger picture emerges: women are starting to take charge in Korea, a nation known for its male dominance.

There is ample evidence to suggest that women have only just begun to scratch the surface of leadership, since they still only account for a minuscule portion of the National Assembly, pay disparity by gender remains high and women continue to take on the bigger burden when it comes to child-rearing.

But, indisputable is the fact that female leaders are wielding real power and their presence is spreading to every nook and cranny of political and corporate life, perhaps to the point that the phenomenon might be called a "women's conspiracy to take over."

President Park brought high hopes for gender equality when she took office in February.

Park came to office at a time when, according to the Glass Ceiling Index put out by The Economist in March, Korea had hit bottom among the 26 OECD member states in terms of female workforce participation, the male-female wage gap and the proportion of women in senior jobs.

Another survey by GMI Ratings, a global corporate governance research firm, showed in March that females took up only 1.9 percent of executive positions at companies as of 2011.

Kwon, senior executive vice president at IBK, was tapped as the CEO of the state-run lender Monday.

The banking industry is one of the most conservative organizations in Korea. If appointed, she will be the first female chief of a bank, either commercial or state-run.

During her 35-year career at the bank, Kwon has been "the first female" head of many departments, including the risk management division, card business division and financial consumer protection center.

In July, the Bank of Korea (BOK) had a woman deputy governor for the first time in its 63-year history.

Suh Young-kyung, who was director in the financial markets division, was promoted to become one of five deputy governors there.

Prudential Life Korea President Sohn Byoung-ok, who started heading the company in 2011, was the first female CEO in the life insurance industry.

After building a career in foreign financial businesses, she joined Prudential in 1996.

Oceans and Fisheries Minister Yoon Jin-sook is the first female head of the ministry, which was merged into the Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs in 2008 and was separated again this year following the Park administration's ministry reorganization.

President Park said she picked Yoon because of her expertise in maritime affairs.

Hotel Shilla CEO Lee Bu-jin, daughter of Samsung Electronics Chairman Lee Kun-hee, is also recognized for having a strong drive in business and a charismatic leadership style.

She started working at Hotel Shilla in 2001 and was promoted to lead the hotel operating company in 2011. Under her leadership, the hotel's profits have improved, and the hotel has been upgraded as a luxury one after undergoing a major renovation.

Cho Hee-jin, 51, a researcher at the Institute of Justice, was promoted to the deputy prosecutor general of the Seoul High Prosecutors' Office last week, becoming the first female prosecutor to take the No. 2 post in the office. Busan Metropolitan Police Agency Commissioner Lee Keum-hyung is the first policewoman to head the police force for the second-largest city since the office was established five decades ago.

The 55-year-old, who took the job on Dec. 10, promised to provide the best security services possible to the 3.5 million residents of the southeast port city, "like a mother does for her children."

KORAIL President and CEO Choi is the first head of the state railway operator in its more than 110-year history. The 57-year-old scholar-turned-public administrator has pushed for improving the financial soundness of the company since she took the post in October.

Cho Yoon-sun, 47, is the first gender equality and family minister of the Park government. The lawyer-turned-politician has taken care of multicultural families and contributed to protecting women's rights since her inauguration in March.

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