Assimilation and resistance: The token status of women leaders in South Korea

Yonjoo Cho, Jieun You, Sehoon Kim, Heeyoung Han, Minjung Kim, Sokyum Yoon

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review

2 Scopus citations


The purpose of this study was to examine South Korean women leaders' token status and their experiences in the workplace from the lens of Kanter's tokenism theory. Two research questions guided our inquiry: How do Korean women leaders experience the token effect as Kanter described? How does the social and cultural context affect their token status? Critical to this investigation was an understanding of two conceptual frameworks represented in the literature concerning women in leadership: tokenism theory and the cultural context of Korea. To answer the two research questions, we conducted a secondary analysis of qualitative data in which the aim was to address new research questions by analyzing previously collected data. To that end, we reanalyzed a total of 107 women leaders' narratives that were collected in the previous research on women leaders in Korea by incorporating three concepts (visibility, contrast, and assimilation) of tokenism theory. The study findings revealed the importance of cultural context in the investigation of women leaders' token status. We also found that women leaders as tokens assimilated to meet the dominant group's (men's) expectations in the organization but also managed to resist in their own ways. This study finding of women leaders' effort for assimilation and resistance in the challenging workplace is a uniquely Korean phenomenon, which has not been captured in research on women leaders using tokenism theory in Western contexts. Based on the study findings, we provide implications for research and practice as well as study limitations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
StatePublished - 2018
Event78th Annual Meeting of the Academy of Management, AOM 2018 - Chicago, United States
Duration: Aug 10 2018Aug 14 2018


Other78th Annual Meeting of the Academy of Management, AOM 2018
Country/TerritoryUnited States

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