Gender stereotypes – Germany still in the backwoods?!

A recent NY Times report states that Germany is a place where gender stereotypes remain engrained in the mind, and in key institutions across society. Only about 14 percent of German mothers with one child resume full-time work, and only 6 percent of those with two.

When it comes to empowering women in business, Germany lacks behind many other European countries.  Many leaders in business and politics profess to want to employ and promote women, but Germany’s business sector is still largely male-dominated.

“Germany is good at structural reforms, but not at cultural reforms,” said Thomas Sattelberger, human resource chief at Deutsche Telekom, which in spring 2010 stunned fellow members of the DAX 30 index by announcing a voluntary goal of 30 percent female managers by 2015. “There is a very traditional image of women and men […] and mental stereotypes have not yet been culturally processed and purged.” Alice Schwarzer, founder of the magazine Emma and perhapsGermany’s best-known feminist, likens this mindset to “a leaden blanket across all of German society.” To day, all 30 DAX companies are run by men. Nationwide, a single woman presides on a supervisory board:  Simone Bagel-Trah at Henkel.

For the developed world, Germany’s situation suggests that puzzling out how to skirt or remove enduring barriers to women’s further progress is one of the hardest questions to solve.  In all European countries, from the traditionally macho southern rim to more egalitarian Nordic nations, the availability and affordability of child care, intertwined with traditional ideas about gender roles, proved key factors in determining gender equality. The nature of male networks was another telling factor.

Women remain a striking minority in top corporate echelons, even in fiercely egalitarian countries likeSwedenor the increasing meritocracy of theUnited States. Very few countries approach 20 percent female representation on corporate executive boards.

Yet if Swedish executive suites boast 17 percent women and the United States and Britain 14 percent, in Germany it  is 2 percent — as in India, according to McKinsey’s 2010 Women Matter report.

One of the countries in most need of female talent — at 1.39 the German birthrate is among the lowest in Europe and labor shortages in skilled technical professions are already 150,000 — Germany is a place where gender stereotypes remain engrained in the mind, and in key institutions across society.

HISTORY’S LONG SHADOW

Germany’s mother myth did not start with the Nazis, who awarded medals to fertile women and made Mother’s Day a national holiday while fostering male bonding by organizing boys and men in a range of militaristic clubs.

It did not end with them, either. “We tried to distance ourselves from the Nazi era in every point but this,” said Ute Frevert, Germany’s leading gender historian, and director of the Center for the History of Emotions at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin.

In the emotional and moral vacuum left by the Holocaust inWest Germany, the church was a powerful force. In competition with the Communist East, where women were encouraged to work and leave their children in state nurseries within weeks of giving birth, the 14-year Christian Democratic reign of West Germany’s first chancellor, Konrad Adenauer, institutionalized the old maxim of “Kinder, Küche, Kirche” — or “children, kitchen, church” — in a tax and education system that to this day nudges women out of full-time work.

Married couples pay a joint tax rate closer to the lower rate the two would pay individually. This effectively subsidizes income inequality between husband and wife, noted Holger Schmieding, chief economist at Berenberg Bank. And most schools still end at lunchtime, which has sustained the stay-at-home-mother image of German lore.

To that, add a women’s movement that from 19th-century Social Democrats focused more on protecting women and mothers from harsh capitalism than on the fierce egalitarianism of American, British — or Soviet — counterparts.

“We are still very far from a situation where it’s as normal for women as for men to want both a career and family — even among young women,” said Angelika Dammann, the first and only female board member at software giant SAP. “When you have children, you’re expected to stay home for a significant period;  otherwise you are considered a bad mother.”

RESISTING CHANGE?

Ms. Merkel has never used the chancellery as a pulpit for gender equality. Herself childless, she epitomizes the German career woman. The base of her party, Mr. Adenauer’s Christian Democrats, remains attached to conservative family values.

But the chancellor is also a child of East Germany, where women drove cranes. She is a physicist by training. She made her sympathies plain by appointing women like the outspoken Ursula von der Leyen, a mother of seven in favor of paternity leave and boardroom quotas, to her cabinet.

As family minister in Ms. Merkel’s first term, Ms. von der Leyen introduced a 14-month, generously paid shared parental leave in 2007. Two months are reserved for the father; if he does not take them, the government pays for only 12.

She also sponsored a law promising every 1-year-old the right to a nursery place from 2013, and favors all-day schooling — although actually enacting this is up to each of Germany’s 16 Länder, or states.

“Laws help change mentalities,” Ms. von der Leyen has argued.

But Germany lags far behind countries like the United States— where government aid for child care is scant compared with Europe— in getting women into full-time work and senior positions.

“Until not too long ago German mothers had to choose: children or job,” said Ms. Schwarzer. “The modern version of this choice is part-time work.”

Women may make up a third of executives in small companies, but many of those are family owned. If 10 percent of board members are women, up from about 7 percent in 2001, most of these are employee delegates who get seats under Germany’s model of managing labor relations; on the corporate side, notes Elke Holst, research director of gender studies at the German Institute for Economic Research, “We are still where we were 10 years ago” — at 4 percent.

MALE NETWORKS

According to Mr. Sattelberger at Deutsche Telekom, corporate rituals from recruitment to promotion to working hours retain a whiff of the 1950s, and male networks remain close-knit.

“In the DAX companies, the old social order is the most pervasive,” said Mr. Sattelberger. “This is a place where male dominance, elitism, power and money all come together.”

A 2009 study commissioned by the Ministry of Family illustrated this bias. The Sinus Sociovision institute in Heidelberg surveyed male and female managers in German companies and identified three patterns of thinking among male bosses: Those who simply don’t think women are cut out for it; those who think they are, but fear their colleagues don’t and worry about cohesion; and those who say that in theory gender does not matter but in practice women who make it “overcompensate” and are not “authentic.”

The upshot, says the director of the institute, Carsten Wippermann, is that women who qualify in the view of one type of manager are automatically disqualified by the view of another. “Men can think of reasons against having women on boards and in executive committees,” Mr. Wippermann told the German weekly Die Zeit. “But none in favor.”

QUOTAS

There is now an explosive national debate about affirmative action.

Deutsche Telekom has practiced its version, imposing an internal quota on managers and headhunters. If a short list does not have 30 percent female candidates, Mr. Sattelberger says, it’s simply too short.

Ms. von der Leyen’s successor at the Ministry of Family, Kristina Schröder, has asked all DAX companies to report back with female targets by the end of the year, though without dictating a figure.

But Ms. von der Leyen, now Labor minister, is skeptical of this “Flexi-Quota.” She wants a Norwegian-style legal quota, arguing that big business pledged 10 years ago to promote more women and has little to show for it.

Recently, she and Viviane Reding, vice president of the European Commission, wrote to all DAX companies, urging them to adopt credible and ambitious female targets or risk Europe-wide quotas.

This disagreement between two high-profile ministers — and Ms. Merkel’s lack of intervention — are indicative of widespread unease about quotas.

Most companies where German women have made headway involve quotas, which most political parties also use.

Few bosses publicly dispute a business case for mining female talent. “We are very interested in promoting more qualified women,” said Dieter Hundt, who heads the Germany employers’ federation, the BDA.

Yet there are few fans of quotas — either among the many white men in their 60s (or, in the case of Mr. Hundt, their 70s) who run Deutschland AG, or among the few women.

Mr. Hundt is “categorically opposed” to legislation. “Talented women surely don’t want to get a job because of a quota?”

In the view of Mr. Hundt, many women simply don’t want to climb to the top. “The demands of a top job are particular: the traveling, the work hours, the toughness that is required in such jobs,” he said. “That is also one reason why some women have less ambitions for these jobs.”

Ms. Dammann, the board member at SAP, is adamant she would not want to be a “quota woman.” She worries that women lack confidence, networks and also the infrastructure at work to aim high. Mentoring, job-sharing and a focus on achievement rather than hours in the office, would help, she suggested.

Nicola Leibinger-Kammüller, the chief executive of Trumpf, which makes laser-cutting tools and other machinery, said men cannot be blamed for the lack of women inGermany’s machine-tool industry. Too few women study technical and scientific subjects, she said.

Her company gives employees leeway to set work schedules in a bid to make it easier for women to become managers.

Still, “there is a lack of women who want to work full time,” she said. “We can’t tell women how to lead their lives. We don’t want a system like in the old East Germany.”

The irony, said Jutta Allmendinger, author of several studies on women in the former East and West, is that state intervention appears to be most effective in battling stereotypes. (To this day, eastern women are more mobile and are more likely to have babies and reach management positions than westerners.)

“We need strong legislative signals,” Ms. Allmendinger said.

At stake, Mr. Sattelberger says, is simple economic interest: “Without these talent sources, Germany can’t survive as a leading knowledge economy.

“We have to break open all our historic taboos,” he said. “Because if we don’t, we will lose competitiveness.”

Source: Katrin Bennhold, New York Times, June 2011

Related article on this blog:  Gender quotas in Germany. Dare it like France!?

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2 Responses to Gender stereotypes – Germany still in the backwoods?!

  1. Adrian says:

    “One of the countries in most need of female talent — at 1.39 the German birthrate is among the lowest in Europe and labor shortages in skilled technical professions are already 150,000 — ”

    Does that imply that `female talent` is simply something to make up for the labor shortage due to a low birth rate? I don`t quite understand.

    • genderdebate says:

      The average fertility rate is low in Germany because women have to decide whether to have children or to continue working. Many German women who decide to make a career either postpone childbirth or do not have children at all. At the same time,
      as child care infrastructure is missing especially for very young children and opening hours of day care centers and schools are limited, many mothers, even those who are highly qualified, stay at home with their children and do not work at all (or in part time or precarious jobs). These ‘talents’ are of course missing on the labour market. Several studies as for example by Klasen (1999, 2002, 2003) have shown that female education, employment, and income are a booster for economic development.

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