Women’s shame­ful strug­gle

JoongAng Daily - - Opinion & Perspective -

There is an un­for­tu­nate ex­pres­sion about the age of women in South Korea. Peo­ple say that the age of a woman is like a “Christ­mas cake” — they are fresh­est at 24, ideal at 25, and of low qual­ity at 26, 27 and so on. Sur­pris­ingly, this is ap­plies to Korean work­places as well. Yes, we are talk­ing about work­places of the 21st cen­tury.

Ac­cord­ing to a survey taken in 2013, 44.3 per­cent of 533 hu­man re­sources man­agers think a woman’s age is a Ru­bi­con when it comes to ap­ply­ing for jobs, with 26 years be­ing the most pre­ferred age. About 24 per­cent of th­ese HR man­agers ad­mit­ted that they had de­lib­er­ately de­ducted points for fe­male ap­pli­cants who were older than 30. Some ré­sumés are sim­ply elim­i­nated with one cri­te­rion: age. Nar­row doors of em­ploy­ment have be­come even nar­rower for women of vi­able work­ing age.

Why would com­pa­nies re­ject older fe­males who are per­haps more ex­pe­ri­enced and pro­fes­sional? This dis­crim­i­na­tion is jus­ti­fied by say­ing that older fe­male work­ers are less ef­fi­cient be­cause they tend to have prob­lems ad­just­ing to a chang­ing work en­vi­ron­ment. But this is not the only rea­son. In fact, the un­der­ly­ing rea­son for such dis­crim­i­na­tion is closely re­lated with preg­nancy and company-re­lated costs.

In Korean com­pa­nies, it is not rare to see women get fired be­fore their ma­ter­nity leave. Women are dev­as­tated by their com­pa­nies’ un­just be­hav­iors.

“Moth­ers are forced to quit their jobs as they are un­able to take care of their chil­dren,” said Cho Yoon-sun, min­is­ter for gen­der equal­ity and fam­ily.

The company takes it as a great dis­ad­van­tage to let fe­male em­ploy­ees leave for child­birth. A survey by Saramin.co.kr, Korea’s largest job search web­site, found that 72.1 per­cent of 402 com­pa­nies feel un- com­fort­able when a tem­po­rary vac­uum is caused be­cause of ma­ter­nity leave. They ar­gue that they are wast­ing company re­sources and cap­i­tal on the void made by preg­nant work­ers.

The United States has also suf­fered from preg­nancy-re­lated dis­crim­i­na­tion, with charges jumping by 35 per­cent in the last 10 years. But the United States has acted fast to deal with the mat­ter. The Equal Em­ploy­ment Op­por­tu­nity Com­mis­sion (EEOC) es­tab­lished a task force made up of mem­bers of the U.S. Depart­ment of La­bor, the Depart­ment of Jus­tice and the Of­fice of Per­son­nel Man­age­ment to fur­ther ex­am­ine the is­sue. They en­forced ex­ist­ing laws and pro­vided guid­ance to em­ploy­ers on how to com­ply with them.

On the other hand, the Korean gov­ern­ment’s ac­tions to al­le­vi­ate the prob­lem are de­fi­cient com­pared to other coun­tries. It was only this March that the gov­ern­ment banned com­pa­nies from di­rectly stat­ing the age lim­its on their em­ploy­ment no­tices as a part of the an­tidis­crim­i­na­tion act. Yet many com­pa­nies are still im­pos­ing il­le­gal pres­sure on women of age.

Ev­ery year, a quar­ter-mil­lion of highly ed­u­cated fe­male stu­dents grad­u­ate col­lege in Korea in hopes of pur­su­ing their ca­reers and find­ing a sta­ble job. It is out­ra­geous to limit their op­por­tu­ni­ties ex­clu­sively be­cause of their age. It is about time that com­pa­nies and the gov­ern­ment gave women the chance they right­fully de­serve.

Lee Ji-min Stu­dent at Hankuk Univer­sity of For­eign Stud­ies

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