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How do South Korean female executives’ definitions of career success differ from those of male executives?

Yonjoo Cho (Instructional Systems Technology, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana, USA)
Jiwon Park (Department of Learning and Performance Systems, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pennsylvania, USA)
Soo Jeoung “Crystal” Han (Department of Educational Administration and Human Resource, Texas A&M University System, College Station, Texas, USA)
Boreum Ju (University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, Champaign, Illinois, USA)
Jieun You (Institute of Educational Research, The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, USA)
Ahreum Ju (University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, Champaign, Illinois, USA)
Chan Kyun Park (Graduate School of Technology Management, Kyung Hee University – Global Campus, Yongin, Korea)
Hye Young Park (Hyosung Corporation, Seoul, Korea)

European Journal of Training and Development

ISSN: 2046-9012

Article publication date: 3 July 2017




The purpose of this study was to compare South Korean female executives’ definitions of career success with those of male executives, identify their career development strategies for success and provide implications for research and practice. Two research questions guiding our inquiry included: How do female executives’ definitions of career success differ from those of male executives? What career development strategies do male and female executives use for career success?


A basic qualitative research design was used and semi-structured interviews were conducted with 15 male executives and 15 female executives in diverse corporations by using an interview protocol of 13 questions regarding participants’ background, definitions of career success and final thoughts. To analyze the interview data, we used both NVivo 11 and a manual coding method.


Gender differences were detected in the participants’ definitions of career success and success factors. As previous studies indicated, male and female executives had different perspectives on career success: men tended to define career success more objectively than women. Many male executives, through experiencing transforming changes in their careers, began to appreciate work–life balance and personal happiness from success. Gender differences were also detected in their career development challenges, meanings of mentors and networking activities. While work stress surfaced as a challenge that men faced, experiencing the token status in the gendered workplace was a major challenge for female participants.

Research limitations/implications

In this study, three research agendas are presented, needing further investigation on career success, women’s token status and comparative analyses.

Practical implications

Three implications for practice have been provided, including organizational support, government’s role and HRD’s role.


Gender differences in this study were not as distinctive as previous literature has indicated. Some male executives valued more subjective career success than others, while a few female executives spoke of more objective definitions than others. These subtle differences could be captured through in-depth interviews. By hearing the participants’ stories, both objective and subjective definitions of success, for both genders, could be observed, which might not have been possible in quantitative research. In addition, the study findings reflect the nature of a uniquely Korean context. The participants worked in a Confucian and military culture, which operates in hierarchical structures and the command and control system, coupled with a heightened camaraderie spirit in the workplace.



This study has been presented at the 2017 Academy of Human Resource Development Conference, March 4, San Antonio, Texas. This research was supported by the Korea Foundation's 2016 Fellowship for Field Research.


Cho, Y., Park, J., Han, S.J.“., Ju, B., You, J., Ju, A., Park, C.K. and Park, H.Y. (2017), "How do South Korean female executives’ definitions of career success differ from those of male executives?", European Journal of Training and Development, Vol. 41 No. 6, pp. 490-507.



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Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited

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