Lets talk about Germany today. The country of poets and thinkers (as the Germans call it). Europe’s economic engine. The country of VW, BMW, Porsche, Siemens, Puma, Adidas, and so many more. Germany has been called the export world champion ““ the country topped the list of the world’s export numbers for years (until 2009, when China took the spot and Germany became the second biggest export nation in the world). How are women fareing in Germany?
Lets jump straight to the statistics. To be honest, they do not look good. Ten years ago, representatives of German companies and the German government agreed that the percentage of women in boards of directors should be increased. However, last week the new numbers got out. Out of the 906 board positions in the 200 biggest companies in Germany 29 ““ yes, twentynine! ““ belong to women. Also, women in Germany earn around 23% less than men. And that difference is actually growing.
So, what is going on in Germany? More women than men get into higher education ““ and not only into the “typical” women’s subjects. Where are these women? Do they get stuck at the famous glass ceiling? Or are they really happy with a smaller salary and no big positions, as a study suggested last year?
To be honest, I think that Germany, even though it is slowly changing, still is a conservative country at heart (hey, the conservative Christian Democrats are running the country together with the Liberals). “The framework in Germany is just not conducive for women to make it to the top,” says Anne Zimmermann, who deals with social policies for the German Chamber of Industry and Commerce. Not really that long ago, it still was quite normal and usual for women to stay at home with their kids. The infrastructure of childcare and schooling was based on the fact that mothers were at home. Also today, by far the most women get into part-time jobs after having children, because that is the only way to make family life work.
My sister-in-law was at home with the kids for five years, because there was no day care in their area that would take children under three years in. Now, SIL works part-time, because kindergartens and schools do not have the most work friendly opening hours. And then there are, of course, plenty of people who claim that kindergartens are bad for children. When I was still studying, a guy my age said to me that I MUST have mental problems. All people who went to kindergarten as kids have mental problems and are unstable. Everybody knows that.
All of that is not the best prerequisite for a successful career. While your male colleague is putting in a huge amount of hours and is getting more and more experience, while you are at home for a few years. And then you can only do part-time.
Of course other things also play a role in this matter ““ just the same problems as in many other countries. There are the prejudices that women just do not have it, that all women always want babies and that they therefore do not want a career (because no one could possibly want both), that women are bad mothers if they value their career, that it is the woman’s job to take care of the family and everybody around herself, bosses like to hire people who remind them of themselves, etc.
The German government is attempting to make things better for women. Ursula von der Layen, the Minister of Labour and Social Affairs, has announced that if nothing changes very fast (within the next 5 years), she will introduce quotas for women. I do not think that she likes that solution ““ but maybe it is the only way. And Norway seems to have success with it. Additionally, laws for improving the infrastructure of child care have been put into action. Currently, there are not enough spots in kindergartens (or kindergartens, for that matter), but that is supposed to get better in the coming years (it is not sure if all the communes can make the deadline though, which is 2013).
But will this be enough? Will a set of new laws start the change of mentality that is needed? I live in Denmark now and many of the German problems do not exist here. The infrastructure of child care is excellent (in comparison), for example. And I here all the time again that men and women are much more equal in Denmark than they are in other countries. But women here still struggle just as much in the workforce as they do in Germany. So what is the solution?