September 12, 2023
SEOUL – South Korean women face widespread sex discrimination in the workplace, experiencing inappropriate comments or remarks three to four times more frequently than men, a new survey found. The survey, conducted online by Embrain Public on behalf of nonprofits Gapjil 119 and the Beautiful Foundation Aug. 2-10, was of 1,000 working adults, including 435 women.
Of the respondents, 55.9 percent of women reported being addressed or referred to in inappropriate terms, a rate 4.5 times higher than that of men (12.4 percent). The terms specifically noted in the survey, “ajumma” (a Korean word for a middle-aged woman) and “agassi” (a Korean word for a young woman similar to “miss”), while not inherently sexist, can carry derogatory connotations that are offensive or sexist to women.
Low-wage female workers were more likely to experience such mistreatment, with 46.2 percent of female workers earning under 1,500,000 won ($1127) per month reporting such incidents, compared to only 16.4 percent earning over 5,000,000 won per month reporting being addressed or referred to in the above ways, the survey showed.
Additionally, 45.1 percent of women reported hearing sexist remarks from colleagues, and 44.8 percent felt they were unfairly tasked with stereotypical duties like preparing coffee. These numbers were over three times higher than those reported by men, which stood at 14.2 percent and 13.5 percent, respectively. Moreover, 28.7 percent of women reported receiving inappropriate comments about their physical appearance, compared to only 10.1 percent of men.
Eleven percent of women reported receiving unwanted romantic advances from colleagues — a form of sexual harassment — in contrast to only 3.4 percent of men.
The survey also highlighted the notable disparity in employment and income, serving as a reminder of South Korea’s deeply-rooted gender pay gap problem. One in four women reported feeling discriminated against both during job recruitment and in terms of pay: 24.4 percent and 25.1 percent, respectively. Only 7.6 percent of men reported similar experiences of discrimination during hiring and salary negotiations.
The survey data aligns with other existing statistics. According to 2021 OECD data, South Korean women earn nearly one-third less than men (31.1 percent), amounting to the largest gender pay gap among the 38 OECD member countries, where the average was 12 percent. Korea has ranked at the bottom in the gender pay gap ever since joining the OECD 27 years ago.
A March World Bank report ranked Korea alongside Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Egypt and Syria in the gender pay gap category, with a score of 25 out of 100.
In another troubling sign for the country struggling with the world’s lowest fertility rate, 11.5 percent of female respondents reported facing discrimination for taking maternity or child care leave, a rate four times higher than that of men.
“Underlying the issue of sexual violence in the workplace are numerous instances of workplace harassment,” said a representative from Gapjil 119, a nonprofit dedicated to addressing workplace abuse. “Since casual harassment and microaggressions can escalate into more serious crimes like stalking and sexual violence, we must come up with more effective approaches to address these issues at a fundamental level.”