By Kim Bo-eun
Telecommunications firms are part of the larger tech industry that is leading innovation in organizational culture, but data show they still have a long way to go in terms of gender representation at the board level.
According to information provided by each company, there are only two women board members at the three major telecommunications companies ― SK Telecom, KT and LG Uplus.
SK Telecom and KT each have one, but both are outside directors. LG Uplus does not have any women on its board.
"We only have six board members. Those within the company are the CEO and CFO," a senior LG UPlus official said, adding that the company does have female executives; data show that women account for eight out of the company's 65 executives.
"Current figures show there is progress to be made, but given the greater percentage of women in the workforce and evaluations based on performance, we will see improvements in years to come," the official said.
Including executives that are not board members, women account for an average 7 percent of executives at all companies in the information and communication industry, according to figures from the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family; although they accounted for 12.3 percent at LG Uplus, 9 percent at KT, and 7.2 percent at SK Telecom.
This is higher than the average percentage of women in executive positions at Korea's top 100 firms ― which is about 5 percent.
Consumer goods companies, especially those in cosmetics and apparel, have female executive ratios exceeding 20 percent, but these are the exception.
The low percentage is generally attributed to the lack of women in candidate pools, as their workforce participation rate in the past was low, and a large percentage left work to focus on their family.
Seven percent of the ICT industry is still an insignificant figure, when making comparisons with companies in the same sector in, for example, Silicon Valley. Figures have shot up for these firms after the State of California enforced a new law requiring companies based there to have at least one female board member.
The lack of women in executive positions at telecommunications firms here is attributed to a particularly high gender disparity at entry level, given the male dominance among engineering majors. However, the gap is closing as more women are opting to study engineering.
"The most important factor, however, is the willingness of the CEO who appoints the executives to improve gender representation," said Oh Il-sun, director of the Korea CXO Institute. Oh has looked into female executive ratios at Korea's top firms since 2014.
"This is because even at companies where women constitute the majority, the CEO could choose to appoint a male executive."
Korea is increasingly making efforts to align itself to the value of gender equality, both in the public and private sector.
Much of the initial focus has been on numbers, but companies are increasingly recognizing why better gender representation is necessary, Oh said.
"Basically, it is about seeing people without prejudice. When you remove preconceptions and evaluate employees purely based on performance, this will take the company to another level," he said.
"This is why moves at SK to remove titles and assess employees based on their capabilities are positive, as this creates the necessary climate for the change to occur."