Women building the future workforce in Korea

Inclusion, diversity - and disruption at BKETC

May 21, 2020 in Innovation, Technology

At the Boeing Korea Engineering & Technology Center (BKETC), Boeing accelerates technical innovation with the best technical talent—leveraging the power of a diverse workforce. This is what that looks like to managing director Jonathan Lee:

When we launched the BKETC in the Gangnam District of Seoul in November 2019, our top priority was hiring the best talent in the vibrant technology sectors in Korea. The objective was to create a team that could adapt technologies from other industries ahead of competitors in the aviation industry and elsewhere. That led us on a search for engineers with nontraditional aerospace backgrounds to help build this future.

We started staffing with engineers who specialize in electronics and connectivity fields from the consumer electronics, automotive and aerospace sectors.

We were looking for candidates with expertise in displays, sensors, embedded software, smart factory and artificial intelligence. BKETC started to build its capabilities around these focus technologies.

But technical expertise is only one facet of workforce development. We did not look merely for engineers with specific skills for our initial openings but also for candidates with potential and a willingness to invest in growing with the center. We wanted employees who brought new and different perspectives to the aerospace industry. More than anything, we wanted diversity — in experience, perspective and gender.

Diversity in work experience is one aspect of the center. But more importantly, we have diversity in gender and education. Approximately 40% of our engineers are women. About the same percentage are educated in the United States. Some were educated in the United Kingdom and Canada. Evidence shows that a diverse and balanced workforce accelerates innovation.

That emphasis specifically on gender diversity matters everywhere, but especially here in Korea, where less than 11% of engineers and engineering students are women. Our industry can do better, starting with BKETC. There are deep structural challenges that will take a collective, collaborative, long-term effort.

But there are also actions we can take right now to make the tech industry more inclusive. For example, one of the women we hired, Taekyung Kang, shared that her prior office did not have a women’s restroom in her building. She had to walk for 15 minutes to the next building. That’s not right — and it’s not conducive to success for individuals or industry. The companies that develop diverse workforces and create truly inclusive environments have an advantage.

We also hired software engineer Haesun Kim. She was surprised she was not asked about her marital status during her interview at BKETC. Kim saw that question on other job applications at Korean companies. She wondered why it was necessary and if she might be penalized.

BKETC is part of Boeing Korea, which was established in the 1980s and has grown to include employees in eight Korean cities, including Seoul. At BKETC, as in Boeing Korea more broadly, we studied then applied best practices for creating a well-balanced and inclusive workforce, with an emphasis on supporting women in STEM fields in Korea. We underscored family-friendly practices. Our female employees in Korea can take up to two years for maternity and child care leave. And we encourage our employees to take advantage of Boeing’s flexible working hours policies. We host business network groups, such as our Boeing Women Inspiring Leadership chapter, that actively support the personal and professional development of our women and all employees at BKETC.

We are also creating a work culture that helps accelerate innovation. Speed of business is based on how quickly an organization can gather data and share the facts as a team in the decision-making process. To do so, it is important that all voices are heard. We provide training on active listening. We encourage open discussion and even constructive conflict so that our teams freely express their ideas. We purposefully removed a barrier in a society where seniority and age can hinder open communication.

In short, we’ve been intentional about shaping the future of our workforce as much as the future of our technology in aerospace. And because of that intentionality, we are succeeding at both. BKETC employs a diverse workforce in an environment that values diverse experiences and lifestyles. In fact, Boeing Korea recently was designated as a Best Family-Friendly Management Company by Korea’s Ministry of Gender and Equality.

Boeing Korea’s president Eric John has said that BKETC does “over the horizon” work and keeps Boeing engineering in the lead for aerospace. For him, that is as true of our team as it is of our products and services. Setting a new benchmark for work-life balance enhances opportunities for women in the workforce in Korea — and STEM fields specifically —and makes Boeing attractive in the extremely competitive environment for recruiting engineers.

By Jonathan Lee, managing director, Boeing Korea Engineering & Technology Center