University Graduates: One Woman Hired for every Four Men

(Source, adapted)

Women – not men – were fired in droves at the start of the 2008 financial crisis. But was that as outrageously sexist as it sounds?

After all, they were the bulk of irregular workers back then, when Korea had a greater percentage of them than any other OECD country. Insecurity was a given, which is why the status and rights of irregular workers was a big political issue years before the crisis.

Also, bear in mind that most single people live with their parents until marriage. So, however patriarchal it was, there was a certain logic in the government concentrating on securing jobs for (overwhelmingly male) heads of households, as husbands would provide for their wives, and fathers for their daughters.

In such strained circumstances, it sounds almost churlish of women to complain about that arrangement.

But women were also the first to be fired during the the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis, back when Korea had the smallest number of irregular workers in the OECD. Indeed, it was generally only this newly emerging irregular work that was made available to women – especially mothers – once the Korean economy began to recover, and accordingly the Korean female workforce participation rate has stagnated at the lowest or near-lowest rate in the OECD ever since, and Korea has by far and away the largest gender wage gap.

Considering this, mere economic rationales of why women have again been treated so differently – badly – by employers in the latest financial crisis should be treated with a great deal of suspicion. In particular, they can’t explain why Korean companies are currently hiring roughly only one female graduate for every four male ones, as the following MK article makes clear:

취업 성차별여대생들의 눈물 / “Sexual discrimination in hiring” [causes] female university students’ tears

31 October 2011

서울 소재 중상위권 대학 졸업반인 이 모씨(25ㆍ여)는 금융권 취업이 목표다. 그는 지난 7월부터 2개월간 한 증권회사 지점에서 인턴사원으로 일하며 우수한 평가를 받아 정규직 전환 1순위로 꼽혔다. 하지만 결과는 실패였다.

The goal of one Ms. Lee (25), member of the graduating class of an upper-mid-level Seoul university, is to get a job in finance.  Starting last July, she did a two-month internship at a branch of a securities company, where her superb evaluations caused her to be considered the top choice to be given a permanent position.  However, she was unsuccessful.

며 칠 후 이씨는 상사에게서 충격적인 말까지 들었다. “미안하지만 본부에서 남자만 뽑으라는 지시가 내려와 어쩔 수 없었다”는 것. 이씨는 “각 지점에서 매긴 인턴 성적은 여성이 훨씬 높았는데도 당시 정규직으로 입사한 여성은 단 한 명도 없었다”며 “다른 이유도 아니고 ‘여자’라서 꿈이 무너졌다고 생각하니 억울하다”고 토로했다.

A few days later, Ms. Lee even heard these shocking words from her superior:  “I’m sorry, but we got instructions from headquarters to only hire men, so there’s nothing I could do.”  Ms. Lee revealed, “Though at each branch, the ranked interns’ marks were much higher for women, at that time there was not a single woman among those hired as permanent employees.  I think my dream was crushed for no other reason than that I’m a woman, and it’s not fair.” (source, right)

극심한 취업난 속에서 여대생들이 취업 문턱에서 좌절하며 눈물 짓고 있다. 여성 고학력화로 곳곳에서 여풍(女風)이 불고 있지만 채용시장에선 남성 지원자를 선호하는 성(性) 차별이 심각한 것으로 확인됐다.

Amid severe unemployment, female university students at the threshold of getting jobs are being frustrated and shedding tears.  Through women’s increased high levels of education, “female wind” is blowing [female influence is making an impact] everywhere, but it has been confirmed that, in the job market, sexual discrimination in favor of male applicants is serious.

지 난달 31일 매일경제신문이 국내 10대 기업을 대상으로 지난해 대졸 신입 공채 합격자 남녀 비율을 조사한 결과 여성은 신입사원 10명 중 1~2명꼴로 나타났다. 여성 신입사원 비율을 평균 내보니 18.5%로 20%를 채 넘지 않았다.

On Oct. 31, the results of an investigation by the Maeil Kyungjae newspaper into the gender ratios of new university graduates hired by 10 major domestic companies last year found that women made up 1 or 2 of every 10 hires.   They averaged the percentages of new female employees and found it was 18.5%, not even 20%.

(Source)

기업별로 보면 롯데그룹이 27.5%로 가장 높았고, LG와 SK는 20%, GS는 18%, 한화는 17.1%였다. 현대ㆍ기아차는 10% 후반대로 나타났으며 현대중공업이 9.7%로 대졸 여성 신입직원 비율이 낮았다.

Broken down by company, Lotte Group was the highest at 27.5%, LG and SK were at 20%, GS was at 18%, and Hanhwa was at 17.1%.  Hyundai Kia Motors was in the high teens, and Hyundai Heavy Industries had the lowest percentage of women among the recent university graduates they hired, at 9.7%.

최 근 대학생들 사이에 큰 인기를 끌고 있는 두산그룹 기업 이미지 광고 ‘사람이 미래다’에는 취업을 준비하는 여대생이 자주 등장하지만 해당 기업에 여자 신입사원 비중은 18.8%로 매우 낮은 것으로 알려졌다. 두산 관계자는 “업무 특성상 남자 비율이 압도적으로 높아 여성 신입사원 비중이 낮은 편”이라고 말했다. 한진은 대한항공 등 일부 계열사로 공개 범위를 제한했고, 삼성은 공개 자체를 거부했다.

Female college students looking for employment often appear in the corporate image advertisements of Doosan Group, which is gaining popularity among current university students, but it has become known that the ratio of female new employees at this company, at 18.8%, is very low.  A Doosan official said, “The nature of this business is [requires] an overwhelmingly high percentage of men and so a pretty low ratio of women.”  Hanjin limited the range [of information] made public to some subsidiaries like Korean Air, and Samsung refused to release any information.

통계청에 따르면 지난해 여성 대졸자는 27만1773명으로 남성 대졸자(26만8223명)를 10년 만에 처음 앞질렀다. 하지만 대졸 여성 실업자 수는 14만2000명으로 관련 통계 조사를 시작한 후 사상 최고치를 기록했다.

(Source)

According to the National Statistical Office, the number of female university graduates last year, at 271,773, outstripped that of male graduates (268,223) for the first time in 10 years.  However, the number of female graduates who were unemployed was 142,000, the highest on record.

결국 기업들이 여성 인재를 적극 채용할 수 있는 제도적 기반 마련에 미흡하다는 지적이 나오고 있다. 전문가들은 섬세함과 부드러움, 배려심, 소통 능력 등 여성만이 가진 강점에 주목해 기업이 경영전략 차원에서 인식을 바꿔야 한다고 강조했다. 김왕배 연세대 사회학과 교수는 “후기 산업사회로 넘어오면서 남성성을 상징하는 ‘하드웨어 소사이어티’보다 섬세함으로 대변되는 ‘소프트웨어 소사이어티’가 부각되고 있다”며 “소비자 욕구를 잘 잡아내는 기업이 살아남기 때문에 여성 인력 장점을 극대화할 필요가 있다”고 설명했다.

In the end, it is being noted that there is a lack of arrangements for institutional groundwork from which businesses can actively hire talented women.  Experts have emphasized that businesses need to take notice of strengths that only women possess, like delicacy, softness, thoughtfulness, and communicative ability and so change their perceptions at the level of corporate strategy.  Kim Wang-bae, a sociology professor at Yonsei University, explained, “As we become a post-industrial society, ‘software society,’ which represents delicacy, is becoming emphasized over ‘hardware society,’ which symbolizes masculinity.  Because businesses that excel at capturing consumer demands survive, it is necessary to maximize the strengths of female personnel.” (end)

As always, news like this strongly challenges narratives of a glorious future of Korean grrrl power that pervade the English language media about Korea (see here for a discussion of the above video for instance).  But I confess that I was still shocked at the figures above, although perhaps I shouldn’t have been when even an implicit advocate of women’s rights like Professor Kim Wang-bae above subscribes to the same delicate women / tough men worldview that Doosan Group does!

(Thanks to Marilyn for the translation).

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14 thoughts on “University Graduates: One Woman Hired for every Four Men

  1. That last paragraph of the article is so depressing, and one can get a pretty good feel for the problem just from that same paragraph. I just find it really sad.

    I also wonder if perhaps women aren’t angry enough about this. I think you may have mentioned something about this before, but with the way the media reports suggesting things have changed dramatically and that it’s now a much better place to be a woman and so on, combined with the fact that most people tend to overestimate equality within their own society until after it changes (and with there still having been no feminist revolution of any kind in Korea) perhaps too many Koreans don’t really how bad their own situation actually is. After all, on the surface it might seem to be considerably changed for the better from how it was in their parents generation even. There’s music and fashion and foreign foods to be consumed, there are some (as an older female coworker recently said to my girlfriend when she was jobhunting) “really good companies out there where the upper people bring the female staff gifts back when they go on business trips”. Has the reality sunk in yet to the extent that it might, is what I’m wondering.

  2. Ugh, this last bit made me nauseus: In the end, it is being noted that there is a lack of arrangements for institutional groundwork from which businesses can actively hire talented women. Experts have emphasized that businesses need to take notice of strengths that only women possess, like delicacy, softness, thoughtfulness, and communicative ability and so change their perceptions at the level of corporate strategy. Kim Wang-bae, a sociology professor at Yonsei University, explained, “As we become a post-industrial society, ‘software society,’ which represents delicacy, is becoming emphasized over ‘hardware society,’ which symbolizes masculinity. Because businesses that excel at capturing consumer demands survive, it is necessary to maximize the strengths of female personnel.”

    Way to hit us with a bunch of crappy stereotypes, again! Yes, only women can be delicate, soft, thoughtful and communicative! Who can blame heavy industries corporate branches (where I’m sure everyone at 과장 level and up regularly engages in backbreaking labor that requires real *man*power) for not yet realizing how our innate delicacy can help?

  3. “Confident, independent, strong, yet feminine at the same time.” – Jinu Kim.
    *facepalm*

    I don’t believe girl power, grrrl power and equality of the sexes are the same thing, but based on the language I’m seeing here, Korea’s got a long way to go before it achieves any of them.

  4. …and since I’m a Korean noob, can anybody tell me what comes after “교고” on the blue banner at the top left corner of the image from 웅진주니어?

  5. Agreed to all of the above comments of course! One thing to add is that it was disappointing but not surprising that Samsung wouldn’t divulge its own recruitment figures; while Chairperson Lee Kun-hee has publicly committed to achieving greater gender equality in Samsung’s ranks, I’ve yet to hear of any actual concrete steps taken towards doing so. Transparency about Samsung’s current recruitment ratio would have been a good place to start.

  6. My reaction to employment issues is undoubtedly colored by the greater attention I’ve usually paid to gay rights, imported brides, and mixed families (sexuality and family stuff), and I’m pretty sure I find evopsych reasoning a bit more compelling than most of the commenters here, but…

    I can’t help but think that sexual revolution is a necessary precursor to employment equity. The default pattern in societies is for women’s average ranking of attractive features in a male partner to give much higher priority to the ability to quickly increase her own station, when compared with men’s ranking of desirable features in a woman. Some people believe that this is basically the result of a historical kind of oppression, of myths taught to boys and girls from the cradle. I don’t deny that this plays a role, but there is more reason to believe that this is a pernicious aspect of our nature, like revenge or jealousy or hypocrisy, which requires strong social institutions to hold it in check.

    The elements of sexual revolution in advanced societies — widespread sex free from reproduction, explorational sexuality, non-pecuniary passionate romance, and especially the open discussion of sexual needs with one’s partner — strike me as crucial to employment issues, because these are among the most important things that have the potential to rerank men in desirability away from salary and social class. Without such a change, of course men are going to cling like a life preserver to their main asset in finding a mate.

    Now, I’m not saying that institutional reforms or regulations are in any way wrong…just that I doubt their ability to “stick” unless the things that tend to impress women about men and the things that men tend to do to attract women are considerably diversified…brought into the 21st century.

  7. I don’t doubt that things are far more difficult for women in many industries could the stats also be affected by the fact that many uni graduates don’t really want careers and graduate largely to have an academic pedigree suitable to their families’ reputation and future groom’s status?

    • Sorry, but I don’t agree that that is a “fact” at all. What evidence do you have that “many” female graduates don’t want careers etc., and/or that there’s more women than men like that?

  8. Perhaps it’s worth pointing out that the 10 firms above employ only a tiny fraction of the country’s workers. SMEs and the public sector provide well over 90 percent of the jobs in Korea. It’s my impression that most people would generally rather not work for SMEs in Korea, but a lot of women might provide public sector work, partly because so many (graduate) jobs at places like SK, Hanjin, Hyundai Heavy etc. are essentially blue collar or engineering based (I’m assuming Korea has the usual high male:female ratio of graduates in these sectors). Another reason is that they often get better conditions, particularly with maternity leave and so on. I’ve heard this is one of the things KEB staff are jumpy about, in that they have had pretty good conditions on maternity under Lone Star and are worried that might change.
    I assume the 142,000 is for recent graduates. I wonder how many of those are studying for professional/civil service exams.

  9. Paul Kerry said, on November 15, 2011 at 6:12 pm
    Perhaps it’s worth pointing out that the 10 firms above employ only a tiny fraction of the country’s workers.

    According to the Korea Labor Institute The employment rate for Korean men in their 20s is 58.2%. The employment rate for Korean women in their 20s is 58.3%.

    Do the math.

    Shim Shang-bok an editorial writer at Joongang Ilbo calls Koreans in their 20s job shunners.

    Looks like one gender is hustling for work and the other would rather be pets.

    • Not sure about that. Actually the statistic in the main post is meaningful because these are jobs that people want (civil service and public sector professions too). As other bloggers have pointed out, if you don’t get into a big company during their big hiring sessions for junior employees, you probably won’t get in at all. SMEs offer few prospects and little job security, partly because of the behavior of the larger firms. Worse, it makes it harder to get the job you actually want. Unfortunately, most jobs are in the SME sector (about 85%).

      What I was saying was that you can’t take the figure and apply it across the board.

      That women are doing (relatively) well now could just be an indication that they are more willing to settle, perhaps because they assume they won’t be the breadwinner long-term anyway. Also the main statistical change is falling male employment . Female employment hasn’t meaningfully risen.

    • Just a quick note to say thanks to everyone for their comments, and sorry for not responding: I’m flat out with an emergency editing job at work. But I’ll try to consider them all properly and catch up at the weekend.

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