Research in Progress: Encouraging companies to listen when female employees speak up

July 24, 2020

Yeunjae Lee, Queenie Li, and Sunny Tsai

By Yeunjae Lee, Queenie Li, and Sunny Tsai, University of Miami

Despite the ongoing advocacy to increase diversity and foster inclusive work environments and corporate cultures around the world, discrimination in the workplace remains pervasive, specifically, gender-related mistreatment.

In the United States, four out of 10 working women have encountered discrimination at work due to their gender, ranging from making less money than male colleagues for doing the same work to being passed over for promotions. Extensive research has documented various gender-related challenges and the detrimental consequences of gender discrimination on women’s work performance, career satisfaction, job turnover, and overall wellbeing,

Understanding how women perceive and cope with workplace discrimination is fundamental for creating effective intervention programs and providing institutional support to enhance perceived organizational listening to empower female employees, and recruit and retain a gender-balanced workforce.

Most important, gender discrimination in the workplace has been recognized as a global issue. This phenomenon is evidenced by how the #MeToo movement, which was ignited in the United States, reverberated rapidly around the world and became a global conversation. Women in numerous countries have increasingly spoken up about their workplace discrimination experiences, including sexual assault and abuse.

However, most gender discrimination research has focused on the United States. This critical global issue has yet to be sufficiently examined by cross-cultural comparative studies to understand cultural differences in how women cope with workplace discrimination and most important, the significance of internal communication for empowering female employees. Therefore, we focus on South Korea in our study, which is a developed economy that is culturally distinct from the United States, to provide much needed cultural insights beyond the Western context.

South Korea is known for its male-dominated corporate culture and deep-rooted patriarchal ideologies (Triana et al., 2018). Not surprisingly, the country has consistently been in the media spotlight owing to workplace gender discrimination scandals, including sexual harassment and assault, in various industries.

Although the country has the highest education rate for women between the ages of 25 and 34 years, it ranks 30 out of 36 OECD members in terms of women employment rate and 115 out of 149 countries in terms of wage equality between working men and women. Moreover, the #MeToo movement has sparked antifeminist backlash among young men in South Korea, thereby revealing the complexity and challenges in addressing workplace gender discrimination in the socially conservative country. 

Culture plays an important role in influencing social norms as well as corporate cultures in relation to gender roles and perceptions. Distinctive and tailored communication programs and relationship management efforts for helping global organizations address workplace gender discrimination issues in different cultures are imperative). To gain a global understanding, we will investigate the role of internal communication in mitigating workplace gender discrimination from a cross-cultural perspective by examining American and South Korean female employees’ perceptions and experiences.

Specifically, with the Arthur W. Page Center grant, we are excited to explore the role of strategic internal communication, such as two-way communication and transparent communication between organizations and their employees, in encouraging female employees to speak up and combat workplace sexual harassment and gender evaluation discrimination. This work may help build strong employee-organization relationships and ultimately enhance organizational inclusivity, creativity and productivity.

For further information on this study, please email Yeunjae Lee at, Queenie Jo-Yun Li at or Wanhsiu Tsai at This project is supported by the 2020 Page/Johnson Legacy Scholar Grant from the Arthur W. Page Center. Results from the study will be available in 2021.