According to this article from The Korea Times, it appears that Samsung is unilaterally planning to allow its female workforce to take up to two years' of paid maternity leave.
The law, on the other hand, requires that businesses provide up to only one year.
It is not entirely clear why Samsung decided to be so generous suddenly. The article does state that it could lead to more loyalty from Samsung's employees and that other businesses from around the world calculated that they save quite a bit of money by doing this. However, considering how Korea is also referred to as the Republic of Samsung, employee loyalty might not be something that Samsung needs to be overly worried about.
Regardless of the reasons, Samsung seems to have made this seemingly generous decision without being compelled to do so.
What is interesting, however, is the bit in the article that says:
As of last year, Samsung Electronics had 319,208 full-time employees globally, with South Korea taking up 31.1 percent. Entry-level female employees accounted for 48.3 percent, followed by senior working moms at 12.4 percent, the report said.
"The return rate after maternity leave was 91 percent last year after 92 percent in 2013," another company official said. "Therefore, we are not worried about a vacuum in our workforce as a result of this new policy and those who take a longer leave shouldn't be deterred by job insecurity."
Statistics can be odd sometimes. Samsung's spokespeople can probably say, without being disingenuous at all, that the company's return rate after leave is 91 percent, but it does not change the fact that entry-level female employees make up 48.3 percent of its workforce but that working mothers make up only 12.4 percent.
That is quite a significant difference. Is it possible that many of the entry-level female employees, who are mostly young and unmarried, tend to quit their jobs (or get fired) after they marry and/or get pregnant, rather than go on maternity leave; thereby guaranteeing that the company's return rate after maternity leave remains so high? Or is it possible that Samsung just does not employ pregnant women that much from the get-go?
The article, as per The Korea Times' usual standard of journalistic excellence, does not explain. So one can't help but use one's own imagination. However, I doubt that one needs that much imagination (see here and here).
So, will Samsung's sudden generosity be beneficial for women? Personally, I don't think it will be helpful for women at all. And that is because I think these added benefits will simply compel a significant number of Samsung's Human Resources managers to accept fewer female job applicants from the get-go.
Case in point, according to this article from The New York Times, when the Spanish government passed a law guaranteeing greater maternity benefits, it was revealed that:
Over the next decade, companies were 6 percent less likely to hire women of childbearing age compared with men, 37 percent less likely to promote them and 45 percent more likely to dismiss them, according to a study led by Daniel Fernández-Kranz, an economist at IE Business School in Madrid. The probability of women of childbearing age not being employed climbed 20 percent. Another result: Women were more likely to be in less stable, short-term contract jobs, which are not required to provide such benefits.
Of course, in Samsung's case, upper management chose to increase the company's maternity benefits as opposed to getting their arms twisted by the Korean government. So, this might be comparing apples and oranges. However, it should be noted that Samsung is a very big multinational corporation; and like any large organization chock full of people, there is bound to be competing interests. And it should come as no surprise that some of those interests might not always be on the same page as that of corporate headquarters.
What is true, however, is that for the past few years, more women in their 20s have been employed than people from other demographic groups, especially compared to men in the same age group. However, it is also true that fewer women in their 30s and 40s are employed compared to younger women.
The problems that women face are much more deep-seated in Korea's corporate culture, as well as Korea's familial culture. Therefore, without first making a serious effort to challenge accepted norms and mores, I think that increasing maternity benefits will only exacerbate matters further, rather than alleviate them.