South Korean labour ministry under fire for sexist job interview guidelines

SEOUL (THE KOREA HERALD/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - South Korea's Labour Ministry has come under fire for sexist job interview guidelines for women job seekers, including a suggestion that they tell potential employers they "do not mind casual jokes about sex".

The guidelines were posted on a recruitment information website run by the government.

Faced with criticism from many netizens including women's rights non-government organisations, the ministry deleted the post on Friday and said it will consider "educating all of its employees about gender equality".

In the controversial post that offered "ideal answers" for possible interview questions, the ministry said if a woman is asked for her opinion on sexual harassment at work, she is advised to say "I wouldn't mind casual jokes about sex and it is sometimes necessary to deal with (sexual harassment) by making a joke in return."

If a woman is asked about her marriage plans, she should say "I have no interest in getting married" even if she has plans to do so, because "it is common for (many) female workers to quit their jobs after getting married."

A lot of employers do not prefer women who plan to get married soon for the same reason, the ministry said in the post.

The ministry also advised job seekers to say "I will do my very best even if it is just making a single cup of coffee," if asked about their thoughts on trivial office work, such as making coffee and photocopying.

The guidelines also suggested telling the potential employer that "although I have a responsibility as a woman to raise a child, I am more than willing to continue working (after having a baby) if the company recognises (my abilities)," if asked about her child bearing plans.

A number of local NGOs, including Korean National Council of Women, criticised the ministry for endorsing sexism in the country's labour market.

"It is sexist of any employer to only ask women about their plans on marriage and child bearing," they said in a statement. "And the government is in fact encouraging employers to discriminate against women."

As of last year, only 53.9 per cent of South Korea's entire women population were in the workforce. This put the country at the 25th place among the 33 OECD nations.

While the employment rate is low, South Korean women employees have the longest working hours among the OECD nations. In 2011, a single working Korean woman on average worked 41.7 hours a week.

The country also had the lowest employment rate of women with post-secondary education degrees, at 61.2 per cent, in 2012. The OECD average was 78.6 per cent.