Development, culture and gender in Korea : a sociological study of female office employees in chaebol
The broad objective of this thesis is to evaluate the impact of economic development on white-collar women by exploring gender relations at work in modern Korean chaebol offices, and also to assess the extent to which the cultural legacy of traditional (particularly Confucian) ideology has influenced contemporary corporate culture and women's status and roles in it. For this purpose two hypotheses are tested: first, that national development, having generated women's increased participation in paid work, has failed to integrate them fully into the process; second, that the national culture, with its strong Confucian tradition, has been a major obstacle to full integration by 'legitimising' and sustaining gender inequality. The structure employs both a macro and a micro perspective; the former offers an appreciation of the country's cultural and socio-economic environment as it affects women in society and at work, while the latter encompasses a case study of employment policies and practices within chaebol offices in the late 1990s to probe the extent of sexual discrimination at work and to identify cultural influences on their gender relations. The theoretical framework for this research was initially based on Tiano's theses of integration, marginalisation, and exploitation that were developed in relation to factory-working women in the development process. The research shows that while gendered employment practices and the male-centred work culture have clearly been assisted by the deep-rooted Confucian tradition, national development process and the growing influences of global economy do not necessarily suggest any apparent improvement in delivering gender equality. In addition, the onset of the Asian economic crisis in 1997 (one year into the research) was an opportunity to observe the ever-changing dynamics of the socio-cultural ideology and the fluctuating needs and practices of big business in a global market, as well as to test further theories on women's labour participation, such as those relating to a 'reserve army of the labour'. The study concluded that Korean women's participation in chaebol white-collar employment most closely fits a marginalisation thesis, yet to be 'modified' to take account of the complexity of the country's development process.