Friday, December 09, 2005

Women in Korean Workplace

I found this article in Chosun Ilbo facinating...

As the number of working women increases, the nation’s offices face two growing problems: sexual discrimination and conflicts between women. In a Chosun Ilbo survey of 303 women working in 10 major companies including Hyosung, Hyundai, Amore Pacific and L’Oreal Korea, 85.2 percent said they experienced conflict with women colleagues. Among them, 67.2 percent said they felt unexpressed tension with a female colleague and 18 percent said they had been involved in an outward argument or fight.

◆Female Bosses More Macho than Men
“Women bosses tend to be proud of their survival in the fierce struggle against male colleagues and usually act tough. They push us to be strong,” says Lee Jeong-eun (not her real name, 28), an employee with a large firm. “Sometimes female bosses are more authoritarian than male bosses and more difficult to work with.” Hwang Yu-jin says, “I thought my boss, who is also a housewife like me, would be more understanding about having to take care of children and housework as a working mom, but she was more inconsiderate than anyone else.”

“The 30- or 40-something working women in senior positions today have worked their way up starting from the bottom, as the only woman in the office competing with men,” Prof. Kang Hye-ryeon of the Business Administration Department at Ewha Womans University explains. “It’s natural for them to look down on ‘free riders.’ This feeling of contempt can be expressed in an authoritarian way.”

According to the survey, the biggest problem with women bosses turned out to be the steep ups and downs in their mood (42.5 percent). Prof. Hwang Sang-min of Yonsei University’s Department of Psychology says women tend to be more emotional because they deal with problems focusing on people, while men tend to focus on the tasks they are given.

◆ ‘Sisterhood’ in the Workplace

Kang Ho-jeong, a managing director at Watson Wyatt Korea says, “One of the most difficult things for a female boss to take control of is the sisterhood between woman staff.” She means the special bond between Korean women who, when they are close, go everywhere and do everything together but leave out those who don’t fit in. Experts say that sisterhood is an extension of the “best friend” culture from their schooldays.

◆Overcoming Standards Set by Men

Conflicts pitting woman against woman are a transitory phenomenon occurring as a male-oriented office culture begins to fall apart, academics argue. They stand out because the communication standards are still male-oriented even as more women fill the offices.

The male perspective can also be to blame for tension between women colleagues. “Experienced male bosses manipulate jealousy and envy between women to have their female staff compete in loyalty to them,” says Kim Hyeon-jeong (not her real name, 40), an executive in a publicity agency. “We must not overlook the effect a spoilt male’s perception has on conflict and tension between female colleagues.”

◆How to Disperse Tension

Prof. Kang says a female trait of being unable to tolerate perfection in other women is one of the main causes of conflict. “Women need to adopt a more productive approach and be willing to accept their women colleagues’ good work as a model and engage in fair competition.” She advises sorting out conflict by e-mail or text message rather than talking emotionally face-to-face. “One thing is key: you must admit that you were wrong before asking for understanding from others,” she adds.

Prof. Kim Hyun-mi of Yonsei University’s Department of Sociology advises women to accept the generation gap. “The 386 generation, who are accustomed to collectivism, tend to regard women employees merely as one of the lower ranks. So accept the generation gap before thinking of it as a conflict between women.”

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