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20 major S. Korean conglomerates have no female inside directors

By Yoon Min-sik

Published : May 8, 2024 - 13:02

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A report showed Wednesday that women account for only 3.2 percent of all inside directors at the biggest companies in South Korea.

There are 787 inside directors and 850 outside directors on the boards of the 30 largest South Korean conglomerates and their 298 affiliates according to the local market analysis firm Leaders Index.

There are 174 female outside directors and 25 female inside directors, each accounting for 20.5 percent and 3.2 percent of the respective totals.

All 30 conglomerates had at least one female board member, in accordance with the recently revised Financial Investment Services and Capital Markets Act that bans a conglomerate with at least 2 trillion won ($1.46 billion) asset from having all-male or all-female board. But the report showed that 20 of the 30 top conglomerates did not have a single woman among its inside directors.

"This shows that (the companies) hired a woman as an outside director for the diversity requirement, but their operations are still centered on men," the researchers at the Leaders Index noted.

Percentage-wise, female board members nearly doubled from 2021 to 2024. But the report shows that the increase mostly occurred among outside directors, who are not employees or shareholders of the company.

The 10 groups that did have a female inside director were Samsung, SK, Hyundai Motors, LG, Lotte, CJ, Naver, KT, Hanjin, and Kakao. Kakao had the most female inside directors at six, including the company's first female CEO Chung Shin-a.

There are seven female CEOs among the 298 affiliates of the 30 conglomerates.

Reports have indicated that despite numerous attempts to have diversity in the leading roles in the business sector in South Korea, female higher-ups in companies are still exceedingly rare.

A November report by local consulting firm Unico Search showed that women last year accounted for only 6 percent of board members in the top 100 conglomerates in the country, in terms of sales. It marked a relatively small but consistent increase from 3.5 percent in 2019, to 4.1 percent in 2020, 4.8 percent in 2021, and 5.6 percent in 2022.

There were a total of 439 female board members among the top 100 groups, but the number was just 13 back in 2004. With the current trend, the firm projected the number of female directors is expected to surpass 500 in 2025.

A report by the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family in December showed that the hourly wages of women here are about 70 percent compared to that of men. The disparity is higher than any other OECD country and is more than double the OECD average of 12.1 percent.