Women in the Workplace: Republic of Korea

The Koreans have a saying, “There is more worth in one hour today than in two hours tomorrow,” which is used to suggest that doing something immediately and taking action, even if imperfect, is better than procrastinating. The Republic of Korea (South Korea) is one of the world’s most established and well-developed nations, but is currently behind in women’s current participation in the workforce. In this analysis, South Korea will be evaluated on the basis of women’s access to education, labor force and industry participation demographics, and wage gaps to help present a basic picture of what the workplace looks like for women in the country and ways to improve with one hour today instead of two hours tomorrow.


As of 2017, the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) educational attainment ranking for women in South Korea was 105, which has drifted from its ranking of 92 in 2006. This change was influenced by the increase in rankings of enrollment in primary education (84), enrollment in secondary education (101), and enrollment in tertiary education (112).2 The decrease in rankings does not indicate no improvement occurred in those years, but rather suggests that South Korea simply has progressed at a slower rate than other countries. According to UNESCO, over 58 percent of South Korean tertiary students in 2016 were men, despite female enrollment having grown substantially since 2000 when only a third of the tertiary student population were women.3


The WEF ranked South Korean women 121st out of 144 in estimated earned income with the average woman earning 63.0 percent of what the average man earns with only 56.2 percent of Korean women participating in the professional workforce.4 According to data compiled from an “online repository of company filings operated by the Financial Supervisory Service,” two-thirds of “South Korea’s top 500 companies were found to have zero women at the executive level…” and women only “amounted to 406, or 2.7 percent, of the total number of executives” in 2017.5

The statistics specifying industries where women are executives leads to further insight. The number of female executives was the highest in the small retail and wholesale sectors at 4.9 percent while the construction industry had the lowest at 0.8 percent. Another interesting note is that the “financial sector had the highest rate of women workers at 53.7 percent, but the ratio of female executives fell to 2.7 percent from 3.0 percent… show[ing] that an increase in women’s economic activity [does] not naturally [lead] into the expansion of their seats at the management level.”6

To change these realities, the government “plans to increase the scope of its affirmative action towards businesses, which calls for companies with relatively weak workplace equality to submit plans to hire more women and place more of them in management positions.”7


Based on survey information collected by the WEF in 2017, South Korea is the also 121st ranked country out of 144 in terms of gender wage gap. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) cites the gender pay gap in Korea as the highest in the OECD; “Women working in Korea earn only 63% of what men earn” and “only 56.2% of women in Korea are employed and many women withdraw from work when they have children.”8 South Korea seems to be aware of the situation. Kim Hee Jung, the Minister of Gender Equality and Family and Co-Chair of the Korea Gender Parity Taskforce, cited three misconceptions impeding gender equality:

  1. The idea that if women gain more opportunities, men will lose out.
  2. Childcare and housework are jobs for women, and that work-life balance issues are female concerns.
  3. Women think that by using [daycare centers and childcare leave], they are creating hassles for their employers and colleagues.

To combat these misunderstandings and narrow the gender pay gap, Kim Hee Jung discussed next steps for the task force including launching the “Women’s Resources Academy, which aims to increase the number of female managers” and the “Women’s Resources Database, which will match qualified female candidates with appropriate jobs.” The Korean Ministry of Gender Equality & Family also has recently implemented “incentives and government certifications for companies that have family-friendly policies for both men and women.” For example, “if a mother uses her childcare leave and then a father wants to use his childcare leave, the government will pay 100% of his first month’s salary instead of the 40%… [while] providing financial support to companies who need to hire temporary replacements for staff on childcare leave.”9


As the WEF’s 118th-best country in terms of overall gender gap, the Republic of South Korea undoubtedly has room to improve in promoting women’s roles in its society. South Korea’s slide from its WEF 2006 ranking of 92 indicates progress can still be made. While raw numbers show improvements, South Korea has slowly been passed by other countries. Despite significant economic progress, other countries have outpaced South Korea in bridging the discernable gender gap. If South Korea can spend an hour today by taking action now, it can avoid a wide gender gap tomorrow.

Women in the Workplace: Australia

Sydney Australia Cityscape

Workplace opportunities for women in Australia have changed dramatically over the last half century. In 1966, 31 percent of Australian women between the ages of 30 and 34 were employed. In 2016 that number was nearly 72 percent.1 Today Australia boasts the top rank in women’s education according to the World Economic Forum and a 71 percent labor participation rate for women overall.2 While opportunities for women in the workplace have grown, Australia still reports some highly segregated industries and a stagnated gender gap. Like many countries around the world, Australia continues to move towards gender parity in many areas of the economy through shifts in cultural norms and legal policies.


Australia’s female literacy and education rates are among the highest in the world. As of 2016, literacy and primary education rates were nearly 100 percent with women outpacing men in many areas of education. In 2016, the Australian Government Department of Education and Training reported that women made up 58 percent of enrolled college students and about 51 percent of higher-degree (masters and doctorate) students.3

Although women are more likely to get a bachelor’s degree than men, they are not necessarily studying the same subjects or disciplines. Women are more likely to get degrees in management, culture, health, and education, while men are more likely to have completed qualifications in engineering, architecture, and information technology. Women were three times more likely to have degrees or certifications in health and four times more likely in education. Men on the other hand, were ten times more likely to study architecture and construction, with only 1 percent of women graduating in this field.4 These differences in education choices in turn affect career choices, which can be seen clearly through the trends in the workforce.

Labor Force Participation

More women of all ages have entered the labor force in the last half century. However the nature of the work women perform continues to vary significantly from the type of work men do. Women are more likely than men to work part time, hold casual jobs (jobs without paid leave entitlements), and work in certain professions, especially if they have young children.

Of employed women, 44 percent hold part-time jobs. When considering only employed mothers with children under six, this number rises to 61 percent. For men, only 16 percent of employed men work part time, and 8 percent of employed fathers with children under six work part time. Women who do hold full-time positions also report working fewer hours than men in full-time positions. For families with children in 2017, about 25 percent have both parents working full time. For about 35 percent of families with children, one parent is employed full time and the other is employed part time.5 About a third of employed women work in casual jobs, compared to about a quarter of employed men. Both men and women are more likely to hold casual positions when they are younger (under 34) and hold more formal positions when they are older.

For many industries in Australia, the workforce is fairly evenly divided, but some industries have remained noticeably gender segregated. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the four largest industries for women are retail trade, healthcare and social assistance, education and training, and accommodation and food service. Women dominated some of these areas, the most significant being aged care services, where women make up 84 percent of the workforce. In contrast, men made up more than 70 percent of the workforce for construction, mining, manufacturing, and public utilities.6 Other industries were much more even, with financial and insurance services being the closest at about 50 percent for each gender.

Men and women have nearly equal unemployment rates (4.8 and 4.6 percent, respectively), but women are nearly twice as likely to be underemployed (9.4 and 5.8 percent, respectively).7 These trends, especially when considering the labor participation rates and underemployment rates, shed some light on the gender wage gap that still exists in Australia.

Wage Gap

The Workplace Gender Equality Agency reports that the current national gender pay gap is 14.6 percent. Over the last few decades, it has hovered between 15 and 19 percent without major change. The causes of gender pay gaps are often complicated and hotly debated. One of these is occupational segregation, where women generally work in lower paying industries. However, every industry has an unfavorable pay gap for women, even in female-dominated industries. Another factor is a lack of women in leadership. Fewer women hold higher-paying jobs, in part because senior positions often offer little flexibility. Part-time workers, the majority of which are female, also often have fewer opportunities for additional training and promotion.

Discrimination and bias are also factors, although the Workplace Gender Equality Act 2012 (Act) strengthened legislation promoting gender equality in the workplace. The Act requires businesses employing more than 100 people to submit a report to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency. The aim of the Act is to eliminate barriers to workforce participation equality, reduce gender and family discrimination in employment, and promote the productivity and competitiveness of Australian businesses through gender equality in the workforce.8 The Workplace Gender Equality Agency provides businesses with resources to promote workplace equality, including recommended best practices. As new laws take effect and business practices shift, it is likely that the existing pay gap will continue to decline.

As business traditions change and more women enter the workforce, the nature of and compensation for the work women do will continue to change. More educated women are entering the workforce, and for Australian women, flexibility is a must. New laws are promoting flexible options for employees, which will likely improve female participation rates across many industries and reduce the national gender wage gap. These continuing changes will shape the Australian economy and help Australian businesses compete in the global marketplace.

Women in the Workplace: Germany

Waving German Flag

“That’s the power of German engineering.” This phrase was used in Volkswagen advertisements to instill a sense of appreciation and respect for German innovation. As one of the world’s most established and well-developed nations, Germany—through its substantial influence in the automobile industry—has a legitimate claim to hosting a forward-thinking, aspirational population. One example of this mentality is found in Germany’s efforts to further incorporate women into its economy.

In 2006, the World Economic Forum (WEF) ranked Germany as the fifth-best country overall in its Global Gender Gap Report, awarding Germany a score of 75.2 (with a score of 100 representing exact gender parity).1 Of the various factors that influenced the overall score, Germany’s high rank was most heavily influenced by the “political empowerment” portion. And, on the other end of the spectrum, “educational attainment” and “economic participation and opportunity” were two of the factors that most negatively influenced Germany’s rank.

In many areas, once a high rank or position is achieved, complacency can begin to manifest itself. Sometimes, the maintenance of a preferred position becomes more difficult than simply obtaining it. In some ways, Germany is experiencing this phenomenon in its integration of women into the workforce. German women’s education, traditional work industries, and wage gap are a few areas that give insight into Germany’s progress over the last decade and its status today.


As of 2017, women account for just under 50 percent of bachelor’s degrees in Germany,2 and the German federal government’s website claims that—using college degrees as the sole metric—today’s women are twice as educated as their mothers.3 This “micro-census” showed that 30 percent of 30- to 34-year-old women have college degrees, while only 15 percent of women of ages 60 to 64 hold degrees. To provide context for these numbers, the same data showed that men only experienced one-third of the growth (going from 22 percent to 27 percent.)

Traditional Industries

Compared to the member-countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), German women are slightly less likely to hold management positions.4 Some of this can be explained by the data that indicate that of all the German women who work, 37 percent work part-time. Intuitively, this can factor into women’s lack of promotions and decreased chance of substantial pay increases.

Further, the data detailing where women are executives is insightful: according to Germany’s Federal Statistical Office, women make up 64.6 percent and 61.3 percent of executives in the education and human health/social work industries, respectively.5 The same press release notes that, “In these branches, the proportion of women among all persons in employment is higher, too.” So, although roughly 29 percent of all executives are women, their representation varies greatly by industry.

Germany has put some legislation into motion that aims to equilibrate these imbalances. As of 2016, “a gender quota of 30 percent has been in place for the supervisory boards of businesses that are listed and are subject to parity-based co-determination.”6

Wage Gap

Based on survey information collected by the World Economic Forum in 2017, Germany is currently the 49th ranked country out of 144 in terms of gender wage gap.7 The responses from the survey suggested that women, on average, earned 68 percent of a male’s earnings for similar work. When exclusively considering full-time employees, though, the gap shrinks to roughly 17 percent.8 In other words, women who work part-time are typically subjected to a significantly larger wage gap compared to those women who work full-time.

Germany seems to be cognizant of these facts. In Germany’s annual report on sustainable development indicators, they said this:

[T]he measurable key reasons for the unadjusted pay gap are the different sectors and jobs in which women and men are employed and the performance group, that is, the specific workplace requirements in terms of leadership and qualification. There are additional factors such as a shorter period of service and a lower scope of employment. By the reasons mentioned, around two thirds of the difference of the hourly wages can be statistically explained. The remaining third of the difference in earnings corresponds to the adjusted pay gap. This remaining 7 [percent] of wage difference between men and women cannot be explained using the above-mentioned variables.9

To combat these statistical findings, in 2016, the “General Act on Equal Treatment” banned pay discrimination, and the federal government plans to take even more action. Legislation is currently in the works to require a company that has more than 500 employees to report on any pay differences.10 Further, Germany has taken some measures to assist in qualitative ways. The OECD says that, “Germany is among ten OECD countries that offer strong financial incentives to fathers to take parental leave for at least two months.”11 With this, women are able to more fully share familial responsibilities, remain consistently employed, and receive on-par promotions more frequently. Overall, the German government is working toward a goal of reducing the pay gap to 10 percent by 2030.12


According to the most-recent WEF Global Gender Gap Report, Germany currently boasts a score of 77.8—an increase of 2.6 points since 2006.13 Although Germany’s gross score has improved, the country is currently the 12th-best in terms of overall gender gap. Comparatively speaking, Germany has slowly been passed by other countries. In fact, an article by the WEF said, “Germany [is] … set to close [its] gender gaps in more than 60 years, longer than countries which are currently ranked lower.”14

Women in the Workplace

Working Women

In the last century, women’s rights and opportunities have grown dramatically in the United States and other countries around the world. In very few areas are these changes as pronounced as in women’s role in the workforce. Cultural, political, and economic factors all push and pull social norms and contribute to these changes, and their relationships are complex. Gaining a basic understanding of the role gender plays in workplaces around the world is a vital step in the successful navigation of the global marketplace. The articles in this series will aim to present a basic picture of what the workplace looks like for women around the world primarily on the basis of access to education, labor force and industry participation demographics, and wage gaps.


One fundamental cultural factor that helps determine how women participate in the economy the quality and quantity of education they are able to attain. The quality of education available to women and the level of education they complete has a major impact on their quality of life and that of their families. Women who complete lower secondary school are more likely to earn more, be healthier, and make better decisions than women who do not. According to a study done by the World Bank, the estimated cost of not educating girls (in lost human capital) is between $15 trillion and $30 trillion US dollars. (World Bank) The costs and benefits surrounding women’s education shape the cultures and economies those women live and work in.

Workforce Participation

Where do women around the world work? Decisions are never made in a vacuum, especially career decisions. The choices that anyone makes about what career to pursue are powerfully influenced by many factors, from the psychosocial like stereotypes, family patterns, and industry subcultures to legal and practical factors like occupational segregation, childcare options, and the laws surrounding sexual harassment. The outcomes of all these factors are often reflected in whether women choose to work outside the home (labor force participation rate), industry demographics, and what opportunities they encounter throughout their careers.

Wage Gaps

The definition and causes of gender wage gaps are widely debated, but they do exist in many places around the world. Suspected causes of wage gaps include lack of access to education, occupation and industry choices, lack of experience, and social expectations and perceptions. These gaps have a significant impact on women’s economic power and help shape the way women interact with both their workplaces and the economy as a whole.

The aim of this series is to illustrate how women influence and are influenced by the economies and cultures they participate in. In addition to the indicators listed here, many of the articles in this series also include other cultural factors unique to the country or region considered. The cultures surrounding women and their workplaces will have lasting influences on not just the women themselves, but their families, their communities, and their societies. To successfully navigate business in these settings, one must have a sound understanding of both gender dynamics and the cultural shifts that are changing those dynamics.