The purpose of this study was to examine the token status of women leaders in South Korea (Korea) from the lens of Kanter’s tokenism theory (1977). Tokenism theory was used to explain the challenges of token women leaders and the cultural context of Korea where organizational and cultural constraints coexist. In this study, I conducted a secondary analysis of qualitative data aiming to address new research questions by analyzing previously collected data. To that end, I reanalyzed a total of 107 women leaders’ narratives collected from previous research on women leaders in Korea and identified four themes including: visibility (Old values keep women leaders highly visible), contrast (Women are not considered as leaders), assimilation (Token women’s dilemma), and resistance (Going their own ways). This study contributes to research on women in leadership because: (a) I found that many token women leaders assimilated to meet men’s expectations but a few women also managed to resist in their own ways to bring in culture change in the long run; and (b) this study revealed the importance of culture in the investigation of women leaders’ token status. The cultural impact on token women leaders and their assimilation and resistance in the challenging workplace make this study unique, which was not captured in research on tokenism theory in western contexts. Based on the study findings, we discuss three insights (the importance of culture, the expanded concept of visibility, and resistance as a coping strategy) and provide implications for research and practice.
Dr. Yonjoo Cho (email@example.com) is an associate professor of Instructional Systems Technology focusing on human resource development (HRD) at Indiana University. Before joining IU, she worked in diverse organizations including profit, non-profit, and academic sectors in Korea. Her latest position was MBA Director and Visiting Professor of the KAIST Business School. Her research interests include action learning in organizations, HRD, and women in leadership. She has published three books: Trends and Issues in Action Learning Practice: Lessons from South Korea (Cho & Bong, 2013) with Routledge and Current Perspectives on Asian Women in Leadership: A Cross-Cultural Analysis (Cho, Ghosh, Sun, & McLean, 2017) and Korean Women in Leadership (Cho & McLean, 2018) with Palgrave Macmillan. She serves as an associate editor of Human Resource Development Review and serves on the editorial board of Human Resource Development Quarterly, European Journal of Training and Development, and Action Learning: Research and Practice. She served as an elected board member of the Academy of Human Resource Development (2016-2018) and serves with the Korean Action Learning Association and Korean Society for Educational Technology. She received her Ph.D. in instructional technology from the University of Texas at Austin.