In a country where two of the top people are women (Chancellor and Defense Ministry positions are held by Angela Merkel und Ursula von der Leyen) it comes as a high surprise that the rest of the country still seems to live by old role standards that might have best served in the 50s and 60s. It is even more surprising once you realize that Frau von der Leyen is not only a mother to one but seven children.
I would have guessed that being a mother and a holding a full time job would become the new norm and that the top management position in a company would slowly be filled by women as well. However, we could not be further removed from that reality.
Most women in my industry choose a part time job once children are part of their family. In contrast the men that actually decide to take parental leave (it is incentivized to share parental leave between both parents as it leads to an overall increase in allowable time) do so on a very limited basis and often return full time to their job. You could summarize this very easily as in “Unless it leads to a monetary advantage for the family, most still put the burden of child care on the woman.” Of course there are a few exception, but those are rare.
In my company it is very apparent that female managers are not the norm. Simply, because it is really tough to find a female manager. If there are any, those are very often not German and work on an international service assignment in Germany. In other countries this is not necessarily the case. Even in Asia more female managers can be found.
Why is Germany so far behind?
I have no answer to this. I can only offer a few hypotheses.
Hypothesis 1 — It is just more convenient to have clear roles and responsibilities assigned that do not need to be negotiated every time.
Well, Germans in general do not like convenience. Actually, sometimes they prefer the hard way just because they do not like learning something new or can save a few bucks. Examples are automated garage openers are not always found nor do feel a lot of Germans a necessity to replace old garage doors with a new one just to make things easier. Fridges are incredibly small, so you have to go shopping often. There are so many pins and passwords to everything that it requires a password and pin management system for each household. Driver’s license and ID are two separate documents. The list could go on. So I am not sure convenience is what Germans are looking for.
Hypothesis 2 — Unconscious and conscious bias is driving behavior
Germans like to categorize. And the stereotyping of women and men is still very much a common habit of all genders. Last week I watched a German movie called “Dream Women”. At first glance a comedy about the typical relationship troubles. At second glance I became increasingly annoyed. The women were generally portrait as neurotic and difficult, while all protagonist men were calm and factual. The movie was directed by a woman. Which was shocking to me. Apparently women are ok with exploiting stereotypes even if this is shining a negative light on women itself. Strolling through online forums and magazines the commentary shows the exact same picture. Stereotyping, bullying, ridiculing arguments, and insulting anyone challenging the status quo is the dominant tone. Some men threaten even with gender re-assignment surgery should in fact a female quota ever be put in place, so they are not discriminated against. And of course any woman with a slight success gets attributed with some negative adjectives: career obsessed, aggressive, unfit mother… And men and women (!) practicing this form of argumentation and word choice will be applauded for daring to speak the truth. Trust me, no German is known for their superior tact and politeness. So, the applause is just another form of restating the negative arguments.
Hypothesis 3 — Bureaucracy makes things tough
Germans like rules and order. German like to protect their employees. Unfortunately some of the labor laws backfire on women in particular in larger companies. The bureaucratic process of getting a home office approved is difficult and often only possible with a specific social reason. Spots are often limited. Working from home as a convenience factor is frowned upon if not openly forbidden to control overtime work and ensure employees are not exploited. But it is exactly this taboo-ness of working from home that makes it difficult for women (and men) to balance family and work. Some women have told me they are just tired of hearing on their home office day when someone dares to call them “I am sorry to bother you or disturb you… ” Disturb form what? Working?
So after all these years of talking, gender equality is still just an expression, but not reality in Germany.
What can be done?