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About this book

The book focuses on the historical, political, economic, and cultural elements of Korea and the strong influence these have on women leaders in the nation. It examines challenges and opportunities for women leaders as they try to balance their professional and personal lives. A team of leading experts familiar with the aspirations and frustrations of Korean women offer insight into the coexistence of traditional and modern values. It is an eye-opening look at the convergence and divergence across Korean sectors that international leadership researchers, students, and managers need to know in order to realize and appreciate the potential of Korean women leaders.

Table of Contents




Chapter 1. The Status of Women Leaders in South Korea: Challenges and Opportunities

The development and utilization of women in South Korea has been limited. Women’s participation in the labor market is low, and their leadership roles in both public and private sectors are limited. Due to the country’s paternalistic culture and gender divide, a glass ceiling prevails in every corner of society. As organizations in Korea are male-dominated in ways that encourage men’s leadership and work styles, women leaders in the workplace are pressured to act like their male counterparts. In this uniquely Korean context, we review the literature on women in leadership, discuss the status of women leaders in diverse sectors, examine challenges women leaders face in the gendered workplace, and introduce the government’s women-friendly policies and programs that will bring about more opportunities for women leaders.
Yanghee Kim, Yonjoo Cho

Barriers and Challenges


Chapter 2. Korean Women in Leadership: Family Roles

Korea’s strong sense of collectivism stems from the family, which emphasizes expected gender roles and responsibilities. Koreans regard how the family is managed as a mirror of how society is managed and, thus, the cultivation of leadership for women needs to start within the family. In this context, Chap. 2 presents the meaning of family in Korea, focusing on the historical and cultural characteristics of Korea that influence the social norms and psyches of Koreans. The chapter goes on to examine the roles of women’s family members and the difficulties of balancing work and family, together with the link between family and women’s leadership development. The chapter concludes by discussing the challenges and hopes women face, and suggestions to facilitate the development of leadership roles for Korean women are offered.
Eunsun Joo

Chapter 3. Overcoming Cultural Constraints: Essential to Korean Women’s Leadership Success in Korea

Chapter 3 examines the gender discrimination Korean women leaders currently face and addresses why minimal structural changes are insufficient to change ingrained beliefs regarding gender. Social psychology and cognitive neuroscience research findings are used to explain why ingrained and often unconscious beliefs are resistant to change. Dynamic relationships among systemic and internalized gender privilege and oppression are explored, as well as their unconscious interactions in perpetuating gender discrimination in the workplace. Paradigm shifts in thinking and learning to overcome cultural constraints to foster women’s leadership success in Korea are proposed.
Heesoon Jun

Chapter 4. A New Perspective on Korean Women Leaders’ Career Development

Affected by cultural traditions, Korean women tend to change careers in response to life situations, and are more receptive to social and cultural influences that ask them to fulfill women’s roles and responsibilities. The outside demands often lead Korean women to unexpected career changes. Inspired by Krumboltz’s happenstance career theory (Journal of Career Assessment, 17(2), 135–154, 2009), yet calling for a more indigenous approach to Korean women’s career development, Chap. 4 discusses Korean culture influencing Korean women’s lives, their career orientation, and unexpected and unplanned aspects of their career paths and development. Research implications for future research topics are offered, as well as practical implications in terms of propositions helpful to teach and educate career adaptability for future women leaders in Korea.
Namhee Kim, Pyoung-gu Baek

Signs of Hope


Chapter 5. Policies and Legislation for Women in Korea from the 1990s to the Present

Despite the promulgation of the South Korean Constitution—which publically guaranteed equality for all citizens—gender inequality and the low status of women in several sectors are lasting social problems. In the 1980s, the increased global interest in women’s movements, along with democratization movements in Korea, caused the government to become aware of women’s issues. Since the 1990s, a variety of policies and legislation to address the social needs of women have been enacted. In Chap. 5 we deal with the stream of policies and legislation in Korea since the 1990s.
Hyoun Ju Kang, Hong In Jeong, Heewon Ko

Chapter 6. Educational Opportunities for Developing Korean Women Leaders

The number of women students entering higher education has continuously increased, and the role of gender has changed in Korea. The criticality of women’s leadership in Korea has been noted with an increased number of women college graduates and women in the workforce; however, managerial advancements for women still face limitations, as witnessed by Korea being ranked as a country with the lowest rate of women managers among the OECD countries. To identify how Korean women can face a better and more equitable future in leadership positions, Chap. 6 reviews the current status of educational opportunities available for future women leaders in Korea. Through a review of school-based and additional education, light is shed on the role of education in fostering women leadership and transforming Korean society.
Sooyoung Kim, Eun-Jee Kim

Sector Perspectives


Chapter 7. Women Leaders in the Corporate Sector

The purpose of this chapter is threefold: to review the literature on Korean women leaders in the corporate sector, to share the study findings of our recent research on women leaders in the corporate sector, and to present insights into developing corporate women leaders and women in the leadership pipeline. Hearing women leaders’ own voices concerning current practices of their work–life balance and leadership development in the workplace in which they face cultural and organizational constraints has helped us better understand the challenges and barriers they face. This chapter covers background, corporate women leaders’ status in the labor market, corporate women leaders’ challenges and opportunities, and future research agendas.
Yonjoo Cho, Jiwon Park, Hye Young Park

Chapter 8. Women’s Leadership in Family Business Organizations

In Chap. 8, the literature on family business and family issues as they relate to family businesses is reviewed. Focusing on women-led family businesses, gender issues, and the role of women in leadership in Korea are discussed. Specifically, three aspects entailed in family business are explicated: family embeddedness, including gender roles and work-family conflict; women’s leadership in the context of business succession; and structural barriers in women’s career development, such as glass ceiling effects and self-selection issues signifying what influences women with regard to entering entrepreneurship. As an independent agent to deal with gendered issues, successful family businesses (especially those led by women) have important implications for gender issues, and thus the success of women-led family businesses has significant social impact on Korean society.
Jung-Jin Kim, Sang-Joon Kim

Chapter 9. Women Entrepreneurs in Korea

Women entrepreneurs have recently been receiving public attention in Korea as it is considered that women’s entrepreneurship development has enormous potential not only in empowering women, but also in helping the country strengthen its economic position. The number of women entrepreneurs is growing in Korea; however, it is still far lower than those of other countries, and the discrepancy in the ratio of women-to-men entrepreneurs is noticeable. To provide suggestions for future research and public policies with regard to the development of women’s entrepreneurship in Korea, Chap. 9 reviews definitions of entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship in Korea, the relationship of entrepreneurship to leadership, the status of women entrepreneurs in Korea, research on Korean women entrepreneurs, the Korean government’s support and its effectiveness, and three cases of Korean women entrepreneurs.
Ji-Hye Park, Hyunok Ryu

Chapter 10. Korean Women Leaders in the Government Sector

The purpose of Chapter 10 is to examine the status of Korean women leaders in government, to discuss existing support systems for them, and to identify areas for improvement in women’s leadership in the Korean government sector. Policies for women leaders in government are reviewed and also explored is the current situation of women leaders in government. The status of woman-friendly government initiatives is reviewed and categorized into the following four types: women’s leadership training and development, flexible work arrangements, gender equality policies, and childcare services. The literature and government reports are looked at and four government officials were interviewed to determine the current situation and future plans for women leaders in the government sector.
Sohee Park, Sunyoung Park

Chapter 11. Women Leaders in the Education Sector

Teaching has long been viewed as one of the most respected professions in Korea. It is also regarded as an ideal occupation for women as it affords the professional responsibility of nurturing student development that aligns well with the traditional duties of women/mothers advocated by Confucianism, the dominant cultural ideology of Korean society. As a result, there are more women than men working in K-12 schools, yet the proportion of women faculty in higher education and women in leadership across all levels of school is still surprisingly small. In Chap. 11 we summarize the important facets of women and women leaders in education including background, history, and current statistics of women leaders in education, women leaders’ challenges and lived experiences and opportunities for women leaders’ career success in the education sector, and suggestions for future research.
You-Kyung Han, Sam Hwan Joo

Chapter 12. Korean Women Leaders in the NGO Sector

Despite their short history, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have grown rapidly in Korea, and, in the process, women leaders have played important roles. These issues are discussed in Chap. 12. Compared with education or other public sectors, the NGO sector with horizontal communication, democratic decision-making, and gender equality is a comfortable place for women leaders to work. Many women leaders have served NGOs, have taken initiatives on various socio-political issues, and have participated in many public and private governance positions. In order to help women become leaders and develop their leadership in NGOs, it is necessary to arrange diversified policies to ensure work-life balance and gender equality.
Youn Sun Chang

International Perspectives


Chapter 13. Korean Women in Leadership in an Asian Context

Asia is economically and culturally diverse, as it has been shaped by cultural and historical influences. In Chap. 13 we situate Korean women’s leadership in the context of Asia and discuss the current status of Korean women in leadership in relation to women in Asia, as well as the challenges they face. Compared with the rest of Asia, Korean women hold a lower proportion of corporate and political leadership positions. Like many other Asian countries, Korean women often face patriarchy and traditional gender role expectations, which often cast women as inferior and the primary domestic caregivers. Institutional challenges and support also differ across Asia, yet progress is being made in Korea and elsewhere to improve the environment for women’s leadership.
Kyoung-Ah Nam, Jenna J. Lindeke

Chapter 14. Women in Leadership: Non-Asian Context with a Focus on Higher Education

Women’s leadership in higher education in Korea is at a token level. This reality is somewhat surprising given the high proportion of women enrolled in higher education. In Chap. 14, a comparative perspective is taken by examining women leadership in higher education in the U.S.A. and Germany to develop recommendations for Korea. Both Germany and the U.S.A. started early in their initiatives to improve gender equity in higher education. Despite advances, deep-rooted gender norms are difficult to overcome, as leadership styles and evaluations are still gendered. It would serve Korea well to take note from the comparison and to implement diversity and inclusion measures with a long-term perspective.
Sang-Hee Lee



Chapter 15. Convergence, Divergence, and Crossvergence Related to Women in Leadership: Where Does Korea Fit Globally?

Chapter 15 provides an overview of some of the convergences (similarities with the rest of the world), divergences (differences from the rest of the world and holding to traditional culture), and crossvergences (consisting of tension between traditional culture and change) of women in leadership in the wide range of Korean contexts and sectors included in the book. In this process, ambiguity is expressed in the yin-yang symbolism contained in the Korean flag, recognizing that no practice or policy falls completely into any of these three theoretical categories.
Gary N. McLean


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