Where are the Women?

I wrote about the recovery of the unemployment figures for Germany in an earlier post (Heigh-Ho, Heigh-Ho). What I didn’t realize was that the work force is made up mostly of men. Women from West Germany (before the wall came down) have continued with the traditional ‘women take care of the house and babies’ role. Now, I gladly chose to stay home to take care of my children and homeschool them – and would do so again, but it was definitely against the common grain in the US. In fact, I remember the last semester of my AS degree at SPC and a fellow interior design student was aghast that I was planning on staying home when my daughter was born (I graduated when I was 3 months pregnant).

However, because of the male dominated managerial bastions in Germany, it is expected that a woman will stay home once she has children. Thomas Sattelberger, human resource chief at Deutsche Telekom, was quoted in the NY Times as saying, “There is a very traditional image of women and men that was taken to an extreme in the Third Reich: female mother cult and male fraternity. These mental stereotypes have not yet been culturally processed and purged.”  Because of this, their taxes are set up so that a family pays more in taxes than two wage earners would individually. Another reason there are more mothers staying home in Germany is that most schools there end at lunchtime. And, says 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.”’

This in a country where the Chancellor (the executive head of the government, much like our president) is a woman, Mrs. Angela Merkel.                                                                                                                                                                                                            I find it very interesting that in the US, where women make up 59.5% of the work force (Dept. of Labor, 2008), we can’t get a woman elected President, but in Germany, where only 14% of women go back to work after having one child and only 6% go back after having a second, they have one of the most powerful women in the world heading up their government. I found in my research that, worldwide, it is not that unusual to have very few women in upper management. According to the same NY Times article, only 17 percent of Swedish executives are women, and in the United States and Britain only 14 percent make it up to the executive suites; however, in Germany that figure drops down to 2 percent — as it is in India, according to McKinsey’s 2010 Women Matter report.

In 2009, according to the Times, a study was commissioned by the Ministry of Family that showed why this may be the case. The Sinus Sociovision institute in Heidelberg questioned both female and male managers and discovered three main ideas among them:

  1. They simply didn’t think women were cut out for it
  2. They think they are, but fear their colleagues don’t and worry about cohesion
  3. They say that in theory gender does not matter but in practice women who make it “overcompensate” and are not “authentic”


 It should be noted that East German women seem to be more ready to have babies, leave them in state run kindergartens and get back to work than women who were raised in West Germany are wont to do, showing a decided agreement with the idea that how one is raised is what one considers ‘normal’. Chancellor Merkel was raised in East Germany and  doesn’t have any children, but she is attempting to bring the country more into the 21st century by appointing women such as Ursula von der Leyen, to her cabinet. Ms. Von der Leven is a mother of seven, and as Family Minister, is in favor of paternity leave and boardroom quotas for women. She helped bring about a law that set up a 14-month shared parental leave where two months are reserved for the dad that is paid for by the government. If he decides not to enjoy them, the government only pays the mom for 12 months.

In a country where the growth rate is 1.39%, it is vital that all of their population be utilized to their greatest contribution level, men and women alike, especially since labor shortages in skilled technical professions are already 150,000 below what is needed. Germany has a hard road ahead to change their culture in order to keep their competitive edge on the world stage.

The New York Times,  Saturday, July 2, 2011; Europe; Special Report: The Female Factor, “Women Nudged Out of German Workforce”, by Katrin Bennhold, Published: June 28, 2011


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