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Issue Report

Collection of full-length papers and in-depth analysis of economic and management issues.

Working Mothers and Corporate Policies

Working Mothers and Corporate Policies

YE Ji-Eun

Jan. 25, 2011

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Originally released on November 16, 2010


The status of Korean women has improved at a brisk pace since 1990, but their rate of economic participation has lagged, reaching only 49% in 2009, compared to 73% for men. The low economic profile of Korean women is largely due to interruptions in their career caused by childbirth and child-rearing in their early 30s. Korean corporate culture is the primary source of the difficulties women face in balancing family and work demands, according to interviews and email survey for this study. Thus, the issue of balancing work and family is more than a personal dilemma. It calls for the attention of workplaces that need competent employees and of policymakers, who must address Korea's very low birthrate to secure the nation's future workforce.

The respondents in this study's interviews and questionnaires identified corporate system/atmosphere as the main source of conflict when attempting to balance their home and career rather than family-to-work conflict that can impinge on work performance. Other cited sources of conflict are bosses (managers), children and husbands in that order. Work-to-family conflict is rooted in a workplace culture that is revealed in a host of ways, including excessive night overtime work, inconsiderate managers and poor vision of career growth. The findings suggest that the issue of work-family balance should be tackled on the corporate level of organizational culture and leadership rather than through offerings of occasional support to working mothers juggling conflicting pressures. According to the empirical analysis of this study, a "supportive office atmosphere" and "clear vision of career growth" are the keys to improving working mothers' job satisfaction and attachment to her workplace.

Korea's public policy for supporting working mothers appears to be close to the OECD average, but its shortcomings are seen in low usage of maternity protection program, unsatisfying childcare services, and little government help for working mothers with school-age children.

The problems facing working mothers as such cannot be resolved with a handful of fragmented government or corporate policies. They require the collective efforts and organic cooperation of corporations, managers, working mothers, government and local communities. And coupled with this macro policy-making, absolutely necessary is a microscopic approach that involves changes in perceptions and practices of each and every concerned party.

As corresponding demands for work and family are reconciled, each employer must create a family-friendly system and organizational culture, which serve best its own growth strategy and at the same time, help all employees with their struggles to gain some work-life balance, and help keep working mothers' careers on track and maximize their job performance. In particular, managers should improve their leadership in the care of working mothers' unique needs. Of course, working mothers themselves should develop a strong vision of career growth at their workplaces and strive for the optimal realization of their occupational potential in the long run. As for the government, it would be better to broaden incentives to such family-friendly companies that hire substitute employees and offer part-time work options. And it is necessary to improve working mothers' child care conditions e.g. modification of childcare service charges and increase in public spending on childcare. Communities also should be encouraged to operate community-company aligned nurseries and daycare centers, serve elementary school lunches, and direct traffic around schools.

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