For many parents in South Korea, working from home during the pandemic has been a rare silver lining of this period. But since 2017, a small company in the country has been a pioneer in teleworking and respect for parenthood.
In this country where the corporate culture is extreme, like in neighboring Japan, with employees starting very early and often returning very late from work, Erin Lim, 38, wanted to do things differently.
A baby carrier at the origin of a change
After the birth of her first child, this woman, who describes herself as an “extremely demanding consumer”, could not find a baby carrier that suited her.
So she went to Seoul’s main fabric market and quickly developed a prototype of the baby carrier of her dreams. Without having any experience in industry and entrepreneurship, she founded her company from home.
“I am someone who takes nothing for granted. So, for example, when I started my business, I thought: Why would I need an office?“, she tells AFP.
His company now has 55 employees, 92% of whom are women, and the majority are young parents. They all work almost exclusively from home, with flexible hours and limiting physical meetings to the strict minimum.
“The reason is that I wanted to see my children grow up“, explains Ms Lim. Taking them to school every morning is “truly an essential moment“, she believes. “I didn’t want to have a company culture that didn’t understand this“.
Thus his company, Konny, sanctifies the right for all its employees to drop off their children at school.
In South Korea, many women give up working
South Korea has one of the lowest female labor force participation rates in developed countries: in 2022, only 62% of women aged 15 to 64 were in the national labor market, compared to 79% of men , according to data collected by the International Labor Office.
And many women in the country are forced to give up their hard-earned, well-paid jobs after giving birth, due to an insufficient supply of daycare and care for young children.
Unlike many other countries, most major South Korean companies quickly required their employees to return to the office after the pandemic, with minimal teleworking options.
“A typical South Korean company requires an employee to come to work early and finish late in the evening, sometimes even requiring them to attend a dinner with colleagues. This is no longer possible“to continue like this,” denounces Ms. Lim.
South Korea has one of the lowest birth rates in the world, and despite financial incentives from the government, many women decide not to have children, partly to avoid jeopardizing their professional careers.
Birth rate at half mast
Young people “are afraid of having children” because they also fear sacrificing their free time and their savings, Ms. Lim also thinks.
“We need a culture in which society values raising children“, insists the business manager.
Yet although fewer children are being born in South Korea, spending on baby equipment and products is growing, and Ms. Lim’s company’s business is booming.
Konny alone now holds around a third of the market share in the baby carrier segment in South Korea, and its simple design products are also gaining popularity in Japan and the United States.
For Ms Lim, Konny’s business success also comes from the fact that its employees, as parents, fully understand the problems the company’s customers face, because they have sometimes experienced them themselves.
“If the government took inspiration from this company’s internal practices, there would be a solution to South Korea’s low birth rate“, the popular newspaper Chosun Ilbo boasted in November.