South Korea has made a lot of progress when it comes to gender equality, however, they still have a long way to go, especially when it comes to female entrepreneurs. We recently did an article on the Top 20 Korean Entrepreneurs in Korea and realized that there are still not enough female entrepreneurs starting businesses in Korea. Korea has for decades scored poorly when it comes to the gender wage gap. They tend to usually rank between #100-120. In fact, from a report done by the World Economic Forum, South Korea ranked 124th out of 149 countries in relation to opportunities in the workplace for women.

The gender wage gap sits at around 33% and only 2% of South Korean corporations have a female board of directors. Furthermore, only 2 out of 10 top South Korean companies have a female executive.

Therefore more and more females have looked to start their own company. This was one of the main reasons why I started Seoulz. I realized if I wanted to make a difference I would need my own company. This trend is slowly starting to become a reality in Korea as more and more women are looking to start their own companies and become entrepreneurs so they can take control of their professional journey.

Woman are Sick and Tired of the Sexist Korean Working Culture

It is common knowledge that a woman gets asked some seriously personal and inappropriate questions when applying for a job in Korea. Some of the questions include:

  • Do you have a boyfriend?
  • When do you think you will get married?
  • Why don’t you have a boyfriend?
  • Do you drink?

These questions are focused on two factors that put the woman in a lose-lose position. If they have a boyfriend and are looking to eventually get married, the interviewer might fear she will quit her position once she has a child. Their fear is that women would end up disrupting the companies operations by taking maternity leave. If she doesn’t have a boyfriend, they might feel like she is irresponsible for abandoning her responsibility to have children for Korea’s future.

In regards to questions on whether or not I like drinking seems to boil down to whether I would be able to join social gatherings after work. Men don’t get this question because it is automatically assumed that they drink. For women that don’t drink in Korea, it will be more difficult to build personal relationships with co-workers because that is built after work, not during work.

Gender Roles in Korea

In South Korea, it is expected that women take all the responsibility for household chores and taking care of the children. This is why it is almost impossible for married women to work. There aren’t enough daycare centers in Korea and Korean companies require extremely long working hours. I’ve seen a fellow female Korean coworker who had kids always worrying about coming up with the right excuses to leave early to be with her kids.

Men do not get these kinds of questions. Therefore, right from the start women feel uncomfortable coming into what is probably a Korean male-dominated corporate culture. South Korea still remains a patriarchal society that limits the growth of many women in the workplace. However, these factors get eliminated once a woman decides to start her own company. There they can make the rules while at the same time setting an example for future female entrepreneurs in Korea. The younger female generations need to see successful female entrepreneurs in Korea that will inspire them to think bigger than settling for boring working office culture life.

The Rise of Female Entrepreneurs in Korea

The gender ratio and the gender biases of Korean conglomerates have been a topic of contention for years. Sadly, many Korean startups are going down the same path with male entrepreneurs outnumbering female entrepreneurs 5 to 1. This is noticeable when working for foreign entrepreneurs in Korea at the Seoul Global Startup Center. Most of the foreign startups are run by women, in fact, I would say 50% of the startup founders at the center are female.

Women can bring a lot to the table, especially Korean women. As more and more Korean women slowly get into the Korean Startup Scene, the opportunities to hire women in this male-dominated startup space are starting to grow. However, hiring more women is not enough, there needs to be more Korean women in executive positions or as founders to really make an impact.

In the past females in the workforce would have to leave their job once they got pregnant. Or they would have to return to work in a lower position. This makes it very difficult for females to compete with their male counterparts. The Korean government has taken steps to help females in the workforce but they have not done enough. President Moon’s goal of raising the number of female company executives to 20% by 2022 seems pretty modest.

What the Korean Government is doing for Female Entrepreneurs

Surprisingly there are not many programs for female entrepreneurs in Korea. There is the Korean Women Entrepreneurs Association but not many programs are coming out of that association. The Korean government offers many startup programs but nothing specifically for women. Therefore I recommend you join female entrepreneur communities to network with other female entrepreneurs in Korea. Joining these communities has helped me stay focused and motivated. Best of all the community constantly aims to help each other. This is why more females are looking into Entrepreneurship in Korea because they are starting to see some of the up and coming startups in Korea are being run by women.

Each year this movement to promote female entrepreneurship is growing in Korea and now more than ever females in Korea are embracing entrepreneurship. Before COVID-19, our startup events saw more female entrepreneurs than ever before.

What Female Entrepreneurs can bring to the table

Korean Female Entrepreneur
Female entrepreneurs bring a higher level of social skills to the workplace that includes sensitivity and empathy. Women tend to be better listeners and have more of an open mind. Some might say women have a far better able to communicate and get a message across that doesn’t come across as aggressive or brash. Also, women are great at attention to detail and they follow tasks head-on and follow them through. In a typical Korean household, the men work and the women take care of their finances. From my experience, female entrepreneurs are a lot more organized than male entrepreneurs.

The Rise of AI

Korean startups that are focusing on AI technology need to hire female computer programmers, researchers, and engineers. AI is going to be a huge part of the future economic growth of South Korea. Therefore AI technologies can not be solely male-dominated. If the creators of new AI are all men while the population is 50/50, Korea’s AI technology will not be up to par with the world. If Korea does not have gender diversity when it comes to coding AI, South Korea will not be able to develop cutting edge future technologies. This just does not go for AI startups. Other startups such as gaming startups need to bring on more female talent to capture the female market. That market is huge and is being ignored.

In addition, AI could end up hiring future employees for major Korean companies blind to gender. An AI program focused on finding the best applicant for a position regardless of gender will take out the human element and increase the number of female workers in Korea. Imagine a future where you just need to submit your resume (no picture) and the AI program will do the rest. The AI will match companies with the best candidate regardless of gender.

Women Understand the Market

Since over 50% of the market is female, most likely women will be using your product or service. Women in general, have a stronger buying power which means that women should be a part of the design, branding, and marketing. Men and women buy differently.  Men are more instinctive while women like to compare and browse to find the best deal possible. For example, women tend to be more involved in social media and other forms of digital marketing. Therefore these are two completely different target markets.

Therefore it is highly recommended that a great marketing team is comprised of a male and female. It is vital to get both perspectives when making any marketing campaign. Especially, in Korea, where the women make most of the purchases.

Diversity is Always Good

Korean startups that have gender diversity have shown to be smarter, creative, and better at customer service. A Fortune 500 research showed that companies with at least three female managers have seen their ROI increase by over 60%. This is because men and women bring unique experiences and viewpoints. Having too much of one or the other and you will be losing out. Balance is the key. More and more women are getting into technology in Korea. Female enrollment in technical schools like KIAST has gone up in recent years. So there should be a larger pool of talented female entrepreneurs in Korea over the next few years.

Lessons learned from Uber

As the Uber scandal in Korea 7 years ago has shown. Having a male-dominated workforce could lead to problems. Do you think Travis Kalanick would have gone to a host bar if half the executives were women? The answer is no. The bottom line is that a more diverse workforce will lead to better innovation and less risk of a toxic work environment. To solve a problem you need different opinions and backgrounds. The Korean government needs to offer lower the barriers for women seeking government funding. There are talks for creating funds for female entrepreneurs as well as ensuring more women get promoted to executive positions in big corporations.

What will the Korean Government do for Female Entrepreneurs in Korea?

To be honest President Moon has been trying. He has extended paid paternal leave so that both parents can take time off at the same time. The Korean government also expanded afterschool care and reduced the maximum working hours in a week to 52. However more needs to be done. For one, Korea needs to do away with making all job applicants attach a photo. In fact, Korea should move towards a blind application process. In addition, for companies that are proven to discriminate against women, the fines need to be much larger.

There also needs to be startup programs that cater to female entrepreneurs. They need to target Universities to promote these programs to give females an alternative to working for corporations straight out of college.

While Samsung, LG, and SK have led the way in hiring more females, data shows that it is very difficult for many females to climb the ladder in these corporate companies. The best results will happen only when more and more females start their own companies. It has to start from the top. This will lead to more jobs for females because there will be many new and innovative companies run by powerful female CEOs. Therefore, hiring more female entrepreneurs in Korea will not be an issue. The best interest economically for Korea will be to work to bridge the greater gender wage gap in the country. This can only be done through the promotion of female entrepreneurship.