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Hardly any women in top positions

Despite many women's excellent qualifications: Employers prefer to hire men

Last week, I was talking to a friend who has just started her career. She told me that her boss said that male colleagues had been sceptical about hiring her. My friend is 30 years old. The gentlemen in the company were afraid that she would work only for a short period, get pregnant und take parental leave.

Luckily, her female boss could convince her colleagues that my friend was the right one for the job. If not, the position might have gone to a male just because he is a man and can’t get pregnant. I’m annoyed that these kinds of thinking patterns still exist. That it is taken for granted that men don’t use parental leave options to care for their children. And on the other hand, that it seems obvious that young women want to have children and stay at home.

While most academics are female in Germany, there are few women who make it into the leading circles of politics, culture and business. Only eight board members of the major German companies trading on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange, the DAX30 companies, are women. At the same time, a lot of money is being invested in supporting women’s education. There are, for example, special programs to promote interest among girls in the natural sciences. Also, once a year there is a so-called Girls’ Day. On that day female students can gain experience in male-dominated fields of work. Many scholarship programs require 50 percent of scholarships to go to women. Thus, I never felt discriminated because of my gender in the German educational system.

Children versus career: A turning point for many women

But what does it help if discrimination exists in the recruiting process when women start their careers? And if women have fewer career opportunities afterwards? What if women decide not to go for a career in the established system because they want to be mothers and do not want to be available 24/7 for their employers? Why does the system work better for women in other countries, for example in Norway? Does the Norwegian quota for supervisory boards give an answer?

German companies are trying to change the situation. For example, by introducing a women’s quota for executives: Deutsche Telekom AG has committed itself to have 30 percent of all positions in top and middle management filled with women by 2015. Many accompanying measures have been taken: company-owned kindergartens have been built, female talent pools set up, training for communication in diverse teams offered. But many women are against quotas. They want to have careers because of their performance and not because of their gender. They are afraid of being called “Quotenfrau” (meaning “quota woman”).

I do think a quota can support a cultural change within our society and our companies. But that is not suffcient to create an environment in which women and men are able to decide freely how they want to organize their lives and careers – with or without a family. Only if this option is available, performance – and not one’s gender – can determine one’s career.


May 14, 2012 | 3:04 pm