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The Growing Diversity of Korea's Workforce

The Growing Diversity of Korea's Workforce

SUNG Sang-Hyun

Mar. 21, 2005

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One of the most striking changes facing Korea today is the growing diversity of its workforce. Local business companies increasingly prefer experienced workers, and hire talented people irrespective of gender or nationality. That has dramatically transformed the overall composition of the workforce. The percentage of women taking over managerial and professional positions has changed, rising from a meager 3.5% in 1980 to 16.9% in 2004. It has elevated the social status of Korean women. Equally importantly, there has been a sharp increase in the number of foreign workers in Korea over the past few years.

The government has accelerated the process of change by legislating laws promoting social integration and protecting minorities' rights. In doing so, it is following the trends of other countries. As far as promotion of workplace diversity is concerned, the United States has had a much longer history than other countries. Under the Affirmative Action program introduced in 1964, minorities have won equal opportunity in education and employment. Since then, a series of legislation has been passed to further diversity and minority interests. In a similar move, the European Parliament has urged all EU member countries to adopt anti-discrimination laws by 2006. When these go into force, any form of discrimination based on religion, race, nationality, age, gender, disability or sexual orientation will be prohibited. In line with this trend, even Japan - a country often criticized for discriminating against foreigners or women - has begun producing rules and regulations designed to protect women, minority groups, and the physically disadvantaged.

In the face of changing social conventions and mores, businesses in Korea should not regard the matter of diversity as a mark of financial burden, but instead focus on diversity as a major opportunity. They must actively respond to requirements for protecting minorities while seizing on opportunities presented by the different backgrounds of its employees. They can take advantage of knowledge and experience from various ethnic and social backgrounds, move into new markets on the strength of their diversity, and improve corporate image.

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