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[Herald Interview] ‘Don’t waste time worrying about glass ceiling’

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Published : 2014-07-31 21:01
Updated : 2014-07-31 21:56

The key for women seeking to break through the glass ceiling is to stop thinking too much about it and focus more on getting their work done, according to Hwang Mi-young, chief customer officer of Kyobo Life Insurance.

“A keen awl is visible even when you try to hide it inside your pocket. What I am trying to say is that if you have the ability to prove your worth, everyone will acknowledge it and give you your due credit, regardless of which gender you are,” said Hwang in an interview with The Korea Herald on Thursday.
Kyobo Life Insurance customer services chief Hwang Mi-young. (Kyobo Life Insurance)

Hwang, who was named customer services chief in December 2013, is the company’s first female junior insurance sales clerk to reach the executive level.

Her path was long and untrodden, however, as it took her 22 years to overcome the industry’s prevailing prejudice that saleswomen submit easily to pressure and are more prone to quitting.

And for Hwang, most of the pressure came from home.

“The hardest time of my career was when I was constantly quarreling with my husband about my late working hours,” she said.

Hwang’s husband wanted her to spend more time with their son, who at the time was doing poorly at school.

Another significant career hurdle was the jealousy of female colleagues who resented Hwang’s quick promotions.

“But I convinced myself that if I failed to make it through, I could never win at anything in my life.”

Hwang said her family background, especially her mother, was her source of inspiration for leadership.

“I remember that my mother was always very considerate of others and cared for their needs, never sending people away empty-handed,” she said. “She taught me that losing wisely is actually winning.”

According to industry data, there were only 12 female executives working at the nation’s 10 largest life insurance companies as of June. As many as four companies, including NongHyup Life Insurance and Tong Yang Life Insurance, had no female board members.

South Korean insurance firms are unique in that they are female-dominated, but controlled by male executives, according to industry watchers. This is because women often end up putting their careers on hold as they begin devoting more time to their children and family ― whether voluntarily or through family pressure.

By Suk Gee-hyun (monicasuk@heraldcorp.com)

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