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Friday, April 19, 2024

‘Don’t stab me in the back with pregnancy after promotion’: 1 in 4 Korean women face discrimination

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Citizens cross the crosswalk at Gwanghwamun Square in central Seoul during their morning commute. [YONHAP]
Citizens cross the crosswalk at Gwanghwamun Square in central Seoul during their morning commute. [YONHAP]

 

Approximately one in four female office workers in Korea face direct discrimination at work, particularly over pregnancy and childbirth, a recent survey showed Monday.

“I’m trying to promote you, so don’t stab me in the back with pregnancy or childcare leave [if you get promoted],” one respondent quoted her superior as saying, according to a recent survey conducted by Gabjil119, a civic organization dedicated to assisting victims of workplace abuse.

Similarly, another employee who had planned her honeymoon before her marriage found herself compelled to resign by her department head. When she tried to use her annual leave together with the congratulatory leave granted after getting married, the department head dismissed her request, stating, “I won’t approve your annual leave anyway,” and instructed her to leave the company.

According to the survey conducted on 1,000 office workers nationwide, 27.1 percent of female respondents reported being coerced into signing labor contracts stipulating marriage, pregnancy, or childbirth as grounds for resignation. This contrasts with the 19 percent of males who reported similar experiences. Despite violating the Equal Employment Opportunity and Work-Family Balance Assistance Act, these discriminatory practices are particularly prevalent for female workers in small businesses.

The survey also uncovered instances of “subtle discrimination” that are harder to prove. Examples include the denial of workplace benefits, such as access to lunch at a hospital’s cafeteria under the pretext of “excessive benefits” due to reduced working hours from child-rearing.

Parental leave usage per 100 births among key OECD nations [AHN DA-YOUNG]
Parental leave usage per 100 births among key OECD nations [AHN DA-YOUNG]

Korea’s low utilization of parental leave further exacerbates the challenges faced by working women. The country ranks among the lowest in parental leave utilization rates according to data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, with only 48 leave-takers per 100 births as of 2020.

Last year marked the first time the number of second or subsequent births fell below 100,000 since records began, reflecting the harsh reality of raising a child in the country.

Experts emphasize the urgent need for both government intervention and corporate cultural shifts to address the crisis, with suggestions including the development of a family-friendly work environment.

“It is desirable for companies and economic organizations to take the lead in fostering a culture of work-life balance and improving organizational structure while the government provides institutional and financial support,” said Jung Jae-hoon, a professor of social welfare policy at Seoul Women’s University.

“Unlike conglomerates, small- and medium-sized enterprises find it difficult to find alternative manpower, so if someone takes parental leave, there’s really no one to do the job,” said Lee Chul-hee, a professor of economics at Seoul National University. “[The government] should explore solutions like setting up organizations to source substitute workers based on industry needs.”

BY NA SANG-HYEON, SEO JI-EUN [seo.jieun1@joongang.co.kr]