South Korea: Home to OECD's Thickest 'Glass Ceiling'


If you are a Korean and wish to become a journalist, you may be familiar with a South Korean online community called “Arang.” With about 130,000 members, Arang has acted as a salon for hundreds and thousands of aspiring journalists, where they not only share their dreams but also discuss major social issues in South Korea.

One of the popular topics being discussed on Arang these days is whether a South Korean daily, Kyunghyang Shinmun, discriminated against women when hiring entry-level reporters. The issue began when one of the applicants claimed that she was discriminated against by Kyunghyang because she was female. After several months, Kyunghyang finally responded that there was no discrimination against women and all the selection processes were done impartially. Still, the accusation continues as the applicant wants the case to be officially inspected by the relevant inspection organizations.

Many perceived this particular case as a typical example of discrimination against women, which is prevalent in South Korean society. An annual Gender Gap report released by the World Economic Forum has South Korea ranked 117th out of 142 nations, while The Economist reported that South Korea has the strongest glass ceiling off all the OECD nations. These are just two examples showing a deep-rooted gender bias in South Korea.

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The South Korean daily Seoul Shinmun pointed out in an editorial that creating a diverse talent pool is crucial for providing new momentum for social development. One of the ways of a creating a more diverse talent pool is to utilize female talents — and the ability to do that is directly related to national competitiveness, the editorial added. In this regard, rampant discrimination against women in South Korea is nothing but harmful for the country.

The situation is ironic, given that South Korea elected its first female president in 2012. The Korean people had high hopes that the first female president could bring about a dramatic change to South Korea’s widespread gender discrimination.

In fact, one of  President Park Geun-hye’s major campaign promises was aimed at female voters, especially housewives with children. Park promised she would help women balance work and childcare by adopting new systems at schools and in the workplace. She also promised she would nurture more female talent, so that South Korea could achieve gender balance in various sectors.

Some say it’s too early to judge whether Park has achieved her pledges successfully or not, as it has been only two years since her administration kicked off. But according to Korean Women’s Association United, Park has achieved very little when it comes to getting rid of discrimination against women.

About 1,000 members of civil organizations, including Korean Women’s Association United, gathered on March 8 to celebrate International Women’s Day with a pledge that they will try their best to improve female rights in South Korea. The association pointed out that frustration is increasing as social inequality in South Korea is deepening and discrimination and hatred against women is becoming more severe.

A recent survey by Gallup Korea showed that Park still has more support from women than men. She has two and half years left in her term; will it be enough time for her to live up to women’s expectation?

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