Friday, October 22, 2010

Gender arbitrage in South Korea: Profiting from sexism

October 21, 2010

“Do you know you have to give everything to become a TV announcer?” These words cost Kang Yong-seok, a member of South Korea’s parliament, his membership of the ruling Grand National Party in July. His insinuation that a woman must sleep her way to the top to work in television embarrassed his colleagues and set off a national debate about sexism.

Working women in South Korea earn 63% of what men do. Not all of this is the result of discrimination, but some must be. South Korean women face social pressure to quit when they have children, making it hard to stay on the career fast track. Many large companies have no women at all in senior jobs.

This creates an obvious opportunity. If female talent is undervalued, it should be plentiful and relatively cheap. Firms that hire more women should reap a competitive advantage. And indeed, there is evidence that one type of employer is doing just that.

Jordan Siegel of Harvard Business School reports that foreign multinationals are recruiting large numbers of educated Korean women. In South Korea, lifting the proportion of a firm’s managers who are female by ten percentage points raises its return on assets by one percentage point, Mr Siegel estimates.


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