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Korea Adopts Name-and-Shame Tool to Boost Jobs for Moms

South Korea will adopt a name-and-shame policy, publicly identifying companies with low female employment levels, as President Park Geun Hye targets 1.65 million extra jobs for women.

Policy steps will include increased subsidies for parents on childcare leave and preferential treatment for “family-friendly” companies seeking government contracts, six ministries said in a joint statement today.

With an aging population threatening to undermine South Korea’s economic growth, Park, the nation’s first woman president, has pledged to lift the female employment rate to 61.9 percent, from 53.5 percent, before her term ends in 2018. Cho Yoon Sun, the minister for gender equality, is working with the family-run industrial groups called chaebol to try to end male-dominated employment practices.

“The male-dominated culture is not shifting fast enough and is a big obstacle to companies actually implementing such measures,” Lee Su Youn, head of the Korea Workingmom Institute, a Seoul-based research organization, said after the measures were announced.

In interviews in Seoul last month, Park said that helping women balance family and work was among the “most critical” items on her agenda, while Cho said that her “biggest priority” was enabling women to work while raising children.

Flexible Hours

South Korea’s Kospi index of stocks fell 1.7 percent as of 1:52 p.m. local time as Asian shares extended a global sell-off.

Companies with at least 500 workers and a female share of the workforce that’s less than 70 percent of their industry’s average for three consecutive years may be publicly named, the ministries said, adding that more details of the plan will be released in December. Another condition would be that the businesses had failed to do enough to tackle the gender disparity, the agencies said.

“With well-devised policy support at each stage of women’s life cycles, we will create a country where they don’t have to quit their jobs because of their babies,” the ministries of finance, gender equality, education, welfare, labor and administration, said in today’s statement.

The government will encourage flexible working hours, enhance childcare programs, and improve training for mothers seeking to re-enter the work force, they said. It also plans to set up a database of 100,000 female talents by 2017 to help improve gender equality at senior levels in the public and private sectors, the ministries said.

Growth Outlook

While the Bank of Korea sees a 3.8 percent economic expansion this year, followed by 4 percent growth in 2015, policy makers are looking ahead to demographic drags. South Korea’s working-age population is projected to start declining in 2018, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development. An OECD report submitted to Park last year estimates that Korea would add about 1 percentage point to growth if it had equal employment.

“For highly educated women in better paid jobs, as soon as they get into their 30s, their employment rate drops sharply and they never recover,” said Cho, in an interview in her office in Seoul on Jan. 10. “The biggest priority is to help them not to quit their jobs while raising kids.”

Hyundai Motor Group had 4.8 percent female staff in 2012, according to Seoul-based private research company CEOScore. Hyundai Motor Co., the conglomerate’s largest company and the nation’s biggest carmaker, said in an e-mail it only had one woman among its 246 executives as of Sept. 30.

Gender Imbalance

The decline in female managers occurs as women quit their jobs after marriage to raise children, said Cho. Women represented 37 percent of the workforce at South Korean companies with at least 1,000 workers at the end of 2012, but filled only 17 percent of managerial posts at private and public companies, according to Labor Ministry data.

By the time they get to director level, the balance is even worse. Women made up 1 percent of the nation’s corporate boards in 2011, according to a report by McKinsey & Co.

Companies with more than 500 workers or 300 female workers are supposed to run a childcare center near the workplace. Only about 40 percent do and Cho wants to raise the level to 70 percent by 2017.

She has personal experience of the problem many Korean women face in finding someone to watch the children when they’re at work. When Cho worked at local law firm Kim & Chang, the company didn’t provide childcare and she went through a series of nannies trying to find one she could trust.

“In one month, I had to change six or seven nannies,” she said. While her husband, who still works at the law firm, tried to help, she became increasingly desperate trying to look after her kids, do her job and find a reliable caregiver. “As a Buddhist, I thought to myself at one point: ‘I don’t care if I get reborn as an insect, as long as it’s male.’”

In one sign of change, Starbucks Korea has established a “returning-mom” program.