The Granite Tower
Women, the Dynamic of Future Growth
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승인 2012.11.22  19:41:25
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We are almost halfway through a series of five special features about Generation Y and the Best Employers 2.0 Korea 2011 (BEK). While the previous two articles covered Generation Y and its connection with Generation X, we will shed light on women and Generation Y this time.

Catalyst, a NGO (non-governmental organization) dealing with equal employment for women, once discovered that the more mature gender diversity a company shows, the better business outcomes it could anticipate. By analyzing the top 500 businesses selected by Fortune, the entity concluded that when more than three seats of a company’s board were occupied by women, that company yielded a much higher level of profits in ROS (return on sales), ROIC (return on invested capital), and ROE (return on equity) respectively 84 percent, 60 percent, and 46 percent more than boards with no women executives. Nonetheless, only a few Korean enterprises are ready to wisely utilize female human resources. This November, GT will investigate what status women currently hold in businesses.

▲ Work-life balance.Provided by



So far, a large proportion of welfare policies for female workers have focused on women’s inherent differences, such as a menstruation holiday or maternity leave, strongly protected by current legislation. The Labor standards Act rules that in every workplace with more than five employees, employers should guarantee a menstrual leave and a maternity leave for 90 days before and after childbirth with 60 days to be paid.

Atop these mandatory benefits, individual firms voluntarily provide varied comforts for women. In the case of Samsung securities, female employees can take a break or use breast-feeding equipment at a female lounge. Some other companies run kindergartens or offer flexible working hours for women who have recently had children. What is more interesting is that many enterprises, such as SK, run diverse programs to develop female employees’ qualifications.

Despite these advancements, many female employees hold a skeptical stance on whether they are truly enjoying those benefits. Lim Hee Kyu (26, Seoul), a manager of the Hotel Lotte sales team, states, “Although women account for 30 percent of the entire staff, comfortable working environments are not yet fully in place. Many women employees seem to walk on eggshells whenever they apply for a menstrual leave or give notice of their pregnancy. Besides, due to occasional night duty, it is not that desirable a setting, especially for the married.” particularly, since the implementation of a five-day workweek, female employees now have to apply for a menstrual leave in person, which makes it a far more process.

▲ Glass ceiling. Provided by Ministry of Employer and Labor


Rewards—mostly payment and promotion—reflect personnel appraisals based in three aspects of the following: individual, team, and organizational performance. Actually, assessment based on performance is steadily improving. Keum Dong Jin (48, Suwon), Principal Engineer at Samsung Electronics, testifies, “Since I am working in the R&D (Research and Development) division, incentive is provided when we raise the entity’s name value by applying for a patent or reading a paper.” In addition, Lim’s opinion shows that women are included in such a fair evaluation system. “In my company, female employees can work their way up as long as they yield tolerable outcomes, about 50 percent of the average, which arguably sometimes upsets male employees,” states Lim.

Such an optimistic viewpoint, however, is refuted by some objective evidence. For example, pronouncedly lower wages of female workers explicitly show their unequal status. the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) revealed that Korea has the widest gap between wages of men and women as of 2009 by approximately 39 percent. Professor Sung Hyo-Yong (Economics, Sungshin Women’s University) points out, “The gap between wages is caused by objective elements such as age, level of education, career experience, and job class, but some employers tend to lean on the unsubstantiated bias that female workers’ productivity will be lower than that of male counterparts.”

Atop this, existing barriers for promotion stymie female employees, as proven by the proportion of female executives of Korean enterprises. On August 16, statistics Korea and Financial Supervisory Service disclosed that in the 100 largest Korean companies in terms of market capitalization, only 12 out of 813 board members are women, while women account for 30 percent of employees on average. In contrast, in the case of global businesses selected by Fortune, the ratio of female executives is up to 14.1 percent. Sung admits that the inequity of “networking” aggravates this unfair status. “Now that personal connections or attendance at drinking parties have a huge impact on networking, women are put in a disadvantageous situation,” explains sung. Aside from this, female employees’ far shorter years of service due to the burdens of childrearing are axiomatically considered as a more fundamental factor.

Organizational Culture and Generation Y

It is true that many people still complain that striking a balance between work and life is hard; however, this does not indicate that female employees either are discontented with their working environment or feel that they are maltreated. “Regardless of gender, every employee tries to be considerate of co-workers,” says Lim. similarly, Keum demonstrates that “If a male employee groundlessly depreciates female co-workers, his reputation will suffer.”
One of the most eye-catching changes in organizational culture is caused by the influx of generation Y. “generation Y’ers do not hesitate to express their thoughts. Largely based on such an outgoing tendency, young female employees actively partake in networking,” says Keum. This is because generation Y’ers have been raised in a completely different milieu from that of the former generations; globalization, development of information and communication technology, a nuclear family, and economic prosperity. Being confident and optimistic, they emphasize teamwork and their development; do not understand why they should work for no reason; claim that they should control their lives. Sung articulates, “It is no exaggeration to say that worklife balance is the most decisive factor for generation Y’ers to choose a job. In light of this, however, their satisfaction is quite poor, which arguably implies that the future organizational culture will focus on compatibility of work and life when generation y manages companies.”


Compared to the current status of global leading companies, it is becoming more evident that Korean enterprises still have a long way to go. According to the graph above excerpted from BEK 2011, the engagement level of male employees was still higher than that of female employees both in the Best or the rest group. Furthermore, Johnson & Johnson, for instance, adopted relevant policies to help its employees maintain a work-life balance early in 1989, while Motorola headquarters allocated a particular position to boost and manage the diversity.

In Korea, situations for female employees have been gradually ameliorated, as well. “The glass ceiling is certainly getting thinner. Moreover, many companies are now fervidly discovering female talents,” says sung. Lim also positively evaluates the present level of gender equality. “Everybody recognizes what the problem is and is willing to improve it, though working environment seems unable to catch up with the system,” states Lim.

Without the support of a robust system and culture open toward gender diversity, women will never achieve what they deserve. Reversely, without understanding women’s potential, employers will have decreased success, as shown in the foresaid graph, which also indicates that the engagement level of female employees of the Best noticeably excels that of the Rest. “To meet the global standard, Korean businesses should set a goal to increase the number of female managers and develop key human resources by assigning challenging tasks. Atop this, employers should pursue human resources management compatible with individual life with the support of the government,” remarks Sung.

Case Study

Before 2011, Aon Hewitt’s BEK research simply picked out the Top 10 companies qualified as “Best Employers.” In addition to the Top 10, the 2011 research newly introduced two categories—women and diversity—to recognize companies with strengths in particular areas.

Judge’s Comment
Professor Song Young Soo (Educational Technology, Hanyang University)

“One of the most interesting things in the research was that companies today focus more on corporate culture, not only on systems. The ‘Best Employers’ we selected show that many domestic companies have developed strategic HR management, showing a substantial development from the past.”

People Come First in FedEx Express

Those who have made use of FedEx Express’s (FedEx) fast and reliable delivery service would be intrigued to find out that FedEx satisfies not only its customers but also its employees. Being listed as a Top 10 Best Employers in the BEK research by Aon Hewitt in 2001, 2007, and 2009, FedEx Korea was also selected as the “Best Company for Women to Work For” in BEK 2011.

▲ Chae Eun Mi, Managing Director of FedEx Korea. Provided by FedEx


Satisfying diverse employees is becoming increasingly important in every corporation. In this sense, FedEx is outstanding, “as it has had a ‘people first’ philosophy from the very start,” according to Chae Eun Mi, managing director of FedEx Korea. FedEx believes that when the people, their employees, are satisfied in the workplace, they will provide good service, which leads naturally to larger profits.

This philosophy is realized through various policies and practices, from hiring to retirement. “There are two occasions that I never miss—new employee orientation and the retirement ceremonies held for retirees and their families,” says Chae. “We care for our people from the beginning to the end.” FedEx also provides not only job education but also tuition for employees to further their education, including graduate school.

Promotion is pretty much in the hands of the employees themselves. Every Friday, FedEx posts any open positions. The qualifications that they require do not include gender, serving in the military, or anything unrelated to the job itself. This is not just talk, as Chae herself started from the position of customer service representative, taking phone calls. Other than this promotion system, FedEx guarantees two-way communications by systems such as the Guaranteed Fair Treatment (GFT) program, the Survey, Feedback, Action (SFA), an open-door policy, Let’s talk sessions, courier rides, and skip level meetings. For example, SFA guarantees bottom-up communication on managers’ leadership and corporate policies. The courier ride has new employees, managers, and executives regularly serve one day as a delivery courier to assess what is happening in the field.

Gender, according to the people First philosophy, is not used to discriminate. Out of 770 employees at FedEx Korea, the majority of those who work in actual operations are male because of the job’s nature. However, those who do office work, especially at the level of managing director, consist of approximately 48 percent women. Internationally, over 40 percent of managing directors are women, which is the result of fair hiring and promotion.

Regarding the special welfare they provide for women, Chae says, “we do not distinguish women from men; they are just equally valuable persons for us.” they guarantee three months of maternity leave, child care leave, and spousal leave, without making the employees study their employers’ faces. These corporate culture and systems for diversity in hiring and promoting bring actual benefits to the company. Employees show a high engagement level, which according to BEK research, leads to high business performance, the company’s employee turnover rate is 2.94 percent, and in the last 10 years, 27 employees retired at the age of 60. FedEx seems to be a perfect example of happy people making happy companies.

P&G, Driven by its Diversity DNA

Procter & Gamble (P&G) was selected BEK2011’s Best Employer for Diversity and Inclusion (D&I). To learn what made P&G stand out for D&I, Granite Tower (GT) met with P&G Korea’s D&I Leader Katherine Son.

▲ Katherine Son, D&I Leader of P&G Korea. Photographed by Lee Jeong Min


P&G claims that D&I is part of its DNA, and with good reason. “A car company’s customers are limited to people who can drive, but P&G is a consumer goods company and everyone uses consumer goods every day,” says P&G Korea’s D&I Leader Katherine son. Not everyone drives, but everyone washes their hair and brushes their teeth. P&G claims that D&I is part of its DNA, as its customers are highly diverse. It is perhaps only natural that P&G was selected BEK 2011’s Best employer for D&I.

“We have a well-developed system and a corporate culture that encourages the use of it,” says son. As simple as it may sound, it is not easy to have both. Some companies have a system but lack a culture for employees to openly take advantage of it, while others have not even set up a system. By having both, son believes that P&G could outperform other companies.

In order to satisfy the different needs and wants of employees, P&G’s system focuses on flexibility. Flextime, for example, allows employees to come to the office anytime from 8 A.M. to 10 A.M. so long as they work a full day. Though flextime is being introduced in many companies in Korea, not many actually have employees practicing it. “I come to the office fairly early as I’m an early bird,” says Son. “When I come in at 8 in the morning, there are maybe two or three people on the entire floor.”

Employees can also choose one day of the week to work at home. “I work from home every Monday,” says Son. “I live far away from my workplace, so one less day of commuting means a lot to me.” Being outcome-oriented, the company tries to interfere as little as possible in when and where employees work.

Vacations are flexible as well. When employees use their vacation is of little interest to the company. In fact, the company sends out reminder e-mails to those who still have a number of days to use for vacation by the end of the year. “A new employee took a three-week vacation only after only three months of employment,” says Son, which goes to show how employees take advantage of the company’s vacation policy. “During the first week of January, an entire floor is almost empty,” adds Son.

At P&G, there is also a flexible culture where employees are listened to. Son recounted her own experience; one day, she had planned to go to Sinchon in the afternoon. “It just did not make sense to me to go to office that morning because then I would lose so much time on the streets,” says son. “so I told my boss that I would work at home in the morning and go to Sinchon from home.” Her boss understood and gave his approval.

There are many other aspects of P&G’s systems---especially those pertaining to its HR—that are distinctive to P&G. It adopts a “promotion from within” system, which is committed to training new employees to become future leaders of the company. P&G delegates heavy responsibility to employees, new or old. “New employees are not bench warmers. They are expected to work from the very first day,” says Son.

Unlike most Korean HR departments, P&G’s HR does not deal with employees’ payroll, expense problems, or labor unions. Such general affairs are outsourced, and HR focuses instead on developing and refining the system, which is why there are separate Hr teams for each department. P&G concentrates on what it can do best, and what it can do best is in its DNA.

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