Korea Beats Japan and China to Get Women into Power

The new president's inner circle has more women, but the bureaucracy and business have far to go

People sit along the Cheonggye stream in Seoul, South Korea. 

Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg

President Moon Jae-in came into office in May promising to improve the position of women in South Korean society. He's made some progress, fulfilling his pledge to have women take at least 30 percent of Cabinet positions. 

It's the highest ratio for any government to date, and much better than what's seen on China's Politburo Standing Committee or Shinzo Abe's cabinet in Japan. But a look at the rest of Korea suggests the country has a long way to go to improve gender inequality.

Only 2.7 percent of executives at the 500 biggest Korean companies were women in 2016, up from 2.3 percent in 2014. And according to the research by the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, 336 of the companies had zero women executives.

In the central government, almost 50 percent of all civil servants were women in 2016, but only 4.9 percent were in senior posts, usually defined as director general or above, excluding ministers and vice ministers. The lower down the ranks you go in the civil service, the higher their representation, with women holding 80 percent of part-time jobs. 

— With assistance by Bruce Einhorn

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