South Korea is an interesting context to study gender equality. While attitudes towards male involvement with childcare and housework is rapidly changing, South Korea still has a male dominated labor force, which continues to work among the longest hours in the world.
Prior to being selected as an Atlas Corps Fellow in 2014, I had been trying to empirically examine the influence of overworked men’s involvement in childrearing activities and household chores to enhance gender equality in South Korean society. During my research and policy-making processes, including parental leave and flexible work arrangements, I realized the extent of housework among men has significant implications on women’s’ ability to secure paid work and more sustainable professional positions and national productivity. Unlike traditional feminists’ approach, I attempted to view and understand through men’s eyes, the experience of working fathers in their roles both as a worker and a parent, to help them have a better work life balance and working environment. So I highlighted the importance of corporate participation to create a better workplace that will increase employee moral, loyalty, organizational commitment and performance.
Based on these empirical studies, I directed a corporate initiative campaign to reduce working hours of working fathers, which was called ‘Less More’ with conglomerates such as LG, Samsung and Hyundai. I encouraged the communication of important work-related information through formal (e.g., emails, meetings during normal hours) rather than informal channels (e.g., over dinner, drinks) with policy-makers and organizational decision-makers to consider changing the way jobs are remunerated and structured, to create alternatives to disproportionately rewarding employees for long work hours and overwork.
Through this campaign, I highlighted changing norms and values associated with long work hours that need not be a zero sum proposition in which households gain and organizations lose. I contended work-family arrangements are in the best interest of an organization’s talent management system, and the attraction and retention it will have amongst male and female talent who want to work and have a family. As such, replacing old the ways of thinking that overworking contributes to a more sustainable and productive organizational.