Putting institutions in place to support women keep their job is a must
“Career interruption,” a problem plaguing women for so long, has become one of the top priorities for this administration.
President Park Geun-hye declared at the press conference on the 6th and the cabinet meeting the next day that she would “create a Korea where no woman has to suffer from career interruption.” Hyun Oh-seok, the deputy prime minister and the minister of Strategy and Finance of Korea said at the cabinet meeting that the administration’s “3-year economic development plan” also has this issue on top of the list of agendas. Women’s career interruption problem was also one of the 27 follow-up tasks that the government announced right after the press conference.
Devising policies to solve the issue has indeed been on Park’s to-do-list from the beginning of her inauguration. So far, the related policies focused on supporting the career-interrupted women to go back into the job market and find work. From now on, however, the administration plans to channel the policies toward ‘prevention’: in other words, their goal is to make sure women’s career is not interrupted in the first place.
Lim Yoon-ok, co-chair of Korean Women Workers Association said “we welcome the shift of the government’s policy focus, but unless it is followed by a serious contemplation on actual institutions that work, the government’s announcements would just be empty words.” Lim added, “Most women workers are putting up with low wage and poor working conditions. There are not enough childcare centers that working mothers can trust, and employers are generally unwelcoming when it comes to taking maternity or childcare leave.”
Experts emphasized that government policies only is not enough to solve the current situation. Change in people’s awareness must come with the policies in order to genuinely tackle this issue.
Kim Jong-suk of Korean Women’s Development Institute points out that “career interruption must be approached from various angles, as there are so many different causes behind the problem including the difficulty of taking maternity leave, male-dominant culture in companies, the government’s existing childcare and education policies, etc.” Therefore, she added, the government’s change in its approach towards the issue is good news. She said, however, “No matter how strong a government’s political will is, it would still be insufficient to change the entire society. That is why we all need to start rethinking the way we work and finding the right balance between life and work.”
Many experts also believe that the government must take initiative in order to bring change in the private sector. Once the public sector creates a women-friendly working environment and hire more female executives, the private sector will naturally follow suit, according to the experts.
Professor Hong Eun-ju of Economy and Finance at Hanyang Cyber Univ., who is also the Chair of the Korean Women Economists Assoc. said, “Women are forced to leave their career at some point by today’s corporate culture where those who stay late at work and attend every company gathering are valued most by the employer.” Hong added, “If Park administration is serious about solving this problem, they should encourage the public sector to create women talent pool by implementing a quota on the ratio of women in top management, like France does, and make fundamental improvements on the organizational structure so it is more welcoming to women workers.” “I expect President Park, our first woman president, would lay a firm groundwork in bridging women’s career gap in the future.”
As Park showed her determination to handle women’s career interruption issue several times recently, many working mothers are hopeful about the policies that the administration would roll out soon. By improving the institutions, making full use of the existing policies, and change the corporate culture where long working hours is viewed as the norm, Korean society would certainly change and women won’t have to give up on their career any more.