SEOUL — Hyundai Motor’s first and so far only female board director says diversity is important in the leadership team because members from different backgrounds can foster innovation and creativity at the company.
Lee Ji-yun, a professor of aerospace engineering at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST), has been sitting in the automaker’s conference room since last March. It was the first female election in the company’s 55-year history. Lee’s three-year term ends in March 2022.
“Diversity of genders, occupations, and age groups can increase innovation and creativity in government decision-making and lead to better results,” Lee told Nikkei Asia in an email interview. “Companies that promote racial and generational diversity and inclusion, including gender equality, can realize higher values.”
Although Lee is Hyundai’s first female CEO, she has groups all over Korea Inc. after the country’s National Assembly passed a law in 2020 banning boardrooms for listed companies with total assets of at least 2 trillion won ($1.5 billion). only one gender. The law went into effect last August.
However, Lee emphasized that the country still has a long way to go to achieve gender equality in business management. “Korea is still in its infancy for female leadership to participate in government,” she said. “And the focus now is on female symbolism rather than diversity and female representation.”
In fact, female managers and employees make up only a small portion of Hyundai’s total workforce. According to a quarterly report released last week, the 11-member board includes 10 men and Lee, while only 17 percent of the company’s 384 executives, or 4.4%, are women, according to its quarterly report released last week.
Lee said he advises Hyundai to involve and develop more women as managers. “I support recruiting highly qualified women, nurturing them into leadership positions, and creating a diverse and inclusive workplace culture,” she said.
Lee had a similar role at KAIST. In June, she arranged for a meeting between two of Boeing’s top executives, President Heidi Grant and Vice President Maria Laine, and their female students during a visit to a school in Daejeon. Students asked about how they could plan their careers while attending an all-male engineering college. Grant and Laine advised them based on their own experiences in the American corporate world, according to KAIST.
Lee, an aerospace engineer with a Ph.D. from Stanford University, analyzes satellite navigation systems.
According to KAIST, in 2013, he received a recognition award from the US Federal Aviation Administration for his contribution to the development of satellite navigation technology.
She will use his expertise to help Hyundai develop its Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) business, which the automaker hopes will be one of its future growth engines.
Hyundai has had early success with a deal with Indonesia to create an AAM ecosystem in the Southeast Asian country’s planned new capital. Last week, the company signed a memorandum of understanding with the Nusantara Capital Region Authority to collaborate on the project.
According to the company, Indonesia is the largest aviation market in Southeast Asia, as the archipelago consists of approximately 18,000 islands, which makes it difficult to develop ground transportation. The automaker hopes to improve the mobility of Indonesians by creating an AAM ecosystem that leverages Indonesia’s advanced aviation infrastructure and technical capabilities.
Lee is optimistic that Hyundai can lead the industry.”The group is expected to succeed in this field, as the company is building a global consortium covering the entire value chain for the AAM market while advancing the business with a solid investment plan from aircraft development to commercialization,” she said.