|Ryu Eun-ju is the Global Marketing Director of the New York headquarters Pfizer, the number one pharmaceautical company in the world. She entered Ewha College of Medicine in 1897. Photo provided by Ryu Eun-ju.
“Ewha alumnae who immigrate to the States don’t stop at succeeding on a personal level. They stand at the front line of the Korean community to offer a better opportunity to the next generation. Ewha students learn to become leaders in Korea and they continue to be women leaders overseas.”
Ryu Eun-ju is the Global Marketing Director of the New York headquarters Pfizer, the number one pharmaceutical company in the world. Her journey to reaching the leading position in the most competitive industry at the most ambitious city in the world began at Ewha. She entered the school’s College of Pharmacy in 1987 and led her fellow students as the department’s student representative.
“I entered Bukwang Pharmaceutical Company immediately after graduation in 1991 and got married at 1994,” Ryu recalled. “It was the time when female workers were either married contract workers, or unmarried regular workers.”
Despite Ryu being the first female worker at the company whom the CEO personally asked her to stay after she got married, she searched for other foreign pharmaceutical companies where promotion was a possibility to women. She eventually found her way to Pfizer Korea where she eventually became Business unit head. She later emerged as the first Korean to be picked up on its New York headquarters in 2006.
“I got depression in the first month I moved to New York,” she said. “I used to be ‘somebody’ in Korea where everyone paid attention even when I talked with a small voice but in New York, I was ‘anybody.’ Asians are relatively soft speakers and they don’t interrupt when others are speaking as a sign of respect. To me, American workers seemed like talking too loudly in disorganized logic.”
Only after she followed the advice of her Chinese American mentor: to speak as if she was shouting, did her voice become loud enough for other workers to start listening.
“When I go on a business trip with a white male colleague, Americans often mistake me as his assistant,” Ryu said. “Americans view Asians younger than their actual age. If you talk softer, smile more in what we consider as ‘good manner’ and talk seldom, they will forever remember you as a junior.”
Ryu emphasized that it was only recent that Pfizer took notice in making their staff diverse. A decade ago, it made a top list for being white male centric. It was then the executives realized the gravity of the problem and started taking in workers from international branches. Among the Latin Americans and Asians that took its first step into Pfizer New York is Ryu Eun-ju.
Despite Pfizer’s visible attempt to have workers from different background, however, the top executive positions are still male dominant.
“Among the 13 C-positions in Pfizer, only four are currently women,” she said. “Both the quantity and quality of women working positions must be taken into consideration. In quantity, the workplace seems to be leaning toward gender equality. Now is the time when the quality of our position must also be put in spotlight.”
The fields in which women in top positions partake in are narrower than those of men.
“I’m considered an exception because the competition for the marketing field in the US is unbelievable and the notion that such tough spots are better dealt by men exist,” Ryu added. “Women would require a specific profession, such as excelling as a lawyer or a doctor.”
Despite having reached the top position in the best pharmaceutical company in the world herself, Ryu admitted that the employment opportunities for young Koreans in the States is slimmer than ever.
“With a Korean citizenship you wouldn’t get a job in the USA even if you have an American MBA,” she said dryly. “Sponsoring work visas for foreign workers have become simply too expensive and the notion of hiring American first became more so with the Trump administration. My advice would be to enter NGOs such as UN where special visas are provided regardless of nationality.”