Why Korean Startups Need to Hire Female Entrepreneurs

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 1 in 10 managerial positions in South Korea are held by females.

Therefore you would think more and more females would look into starting their 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 is 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.

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 and Korean companies require extremely long working hours.

Men do not get these kinds of questions. Therefore, right from the start women feel uncomfortable coming into what is probably a South 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 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. Women can bring a lot to the table, especially Korean women. As more and more Korean women get into the Korean Startup Scene, the opportunities to hire women in this male-dominated startup space is growing. Hiring more women is not enough, there need to be more Korean women in executive positions 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. This is why females are looking into Entrepreneurship in Korea because the Korean government has made many programs to specifically help female startup founders.

Each year this movement to promote female entrepreneurship is growing in Korea and now more than ever females in Korea are embracing entrepreneurship.

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, Korean 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.

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.

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.

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 5 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. To solve a problem you need different opinions and backgrounds. The Korean government is also looking to 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.

So far Samsung, LG, and SK have led the way in hiring more females but this needs to trickle down to Korean startups as well. Hiring more female entrepreneurs is in Korea’s best interest economically and will work to bridge the greater gender wage gap in the country.