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 >  Home   >   Women in the German workplace
Women in the German workplace auf Deutsch!

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Women in the German workplace

- chapter excerpt - 

Stroll through the cafeteria of any large German company at lunch time and you might be amazed by the sheer number of men you will see in suits and ties. Ironically, in a country that helped define the feminist movement and is currently being led by its first female chancellor, you will run into surprisingly few professional women in Germany’s companies. Worse yet, open any annual report and glance through the pictures of the Board – finding a woman among them is like finding a four-leaf clover! The absence of women in management positions, especially at higher managerial levels, is not only extreme in Germany, it is a curious phenomenon.

Women in the German workplace

While around 60 percent of women between the ages of 15 to 65 work outside of the home, only about 30 percent of these work in professional positions and only two-thirds work full time. So what is it that is keeping women, who now make up the majority of university students in Germany, from joining the professional workforce and climbing up corporate ladders alongside their male colleagues? Opinions on the matter are varied, and range from workplace discrimination to a lack of professional ambition on the part of females. However, Germany has a mix of cultural traditions and social legislation that undeniably encourages women to choose ac-ceptable alternatives to a professional career. So, if you suddenly find yourself in a conference room full of men without any other women in sight, keep a few things in mind:

  • Culture and Tradition
    Years ago, the German woman’s duties were defined by the 3 K’s: “Kinder, Küche, und Kirche” (Children, Kitchen, and Church). Today, the first two, while no longer considered “duties”, still continue to play an important role in the lives of many German women. While it is common for women in many countries to work full time while raising a family, many Germans still hold the conservative belief that a woman should not try to manage both, and in contrast to many other industrialized nations, German women are not expected to. Strangely enough, even young German women are still greatly influenced by this belief. If they do choose to start a family, they often leave the workplace to stay at home for several years. Such a long break does, of course, have obvious consequences for anyone’s career path. If a woman does indeed decide to pursue a professional full-time job and raise children, and she is not subject to extraneous circumstances (a disabled spouse, single parenthood, etc.), she may very well be met with criticism by her family, friends, and colleagues.
  • Social Legislation for Changing Demographics
    Implemented in an effort to support individuals who choose to have children in the face of a drastically shrinking German population, German social law also has the unfortunate side-effect of preventing many women from pursuing professional careers. In fact, the government’s financial support for new parents is so enticing that it often dissuades women from returning to work following the birth of their first child. Here are a few of the government’s perks for parents:
    • Elterngeld (Parents’ Funds) – these are tax-financed funds that are offered to parents in the year directly following their child’s birth. Currently, if an employed mother or father decides not to 183 return to work after a child’s birth, the German government compensates one parent for two-thirds of his or her salary up to a certain amount (currently set at € 25,200).
    • Kindergeld (Children’s funds) – In addition to “Elterngeld”, parents receive at least € 150 per month per child depending on the child’s age and the number of children in a family. These funds are offered to all households with children regardless of employment status until the child turns 18 years of age.
    • Job Protection – Mothers who choose to stay at home after the birth of a child often decide to return to the workplace at some point. This process is made easier by a German law that ensures mothers the right to a position with their employer for up to three years after a pregnancy. This period of time is known as “EIternzeit” (parent’s time). However, many women choose to have several children and end up returning to the workforce after more than just three years. Often, this long gap in their work experience prevents them from seriously pursuing careers in management or other professional areas. In fact, many women choose to return to the workforce as part-time workers so that they can continue to keep at least one eye on their family.
  • A big gap but a high standard of living – Such “Elternzeit” breaks and part-time work contribute to the fact that women earn 22 percent less on average than male colleagues with equivalent jobs. While this circumstance is also the result of a mix of many other things including too few day care centers for children and limited promotional opportunities for women, it worries Germany, who suffers from the third biggest gender salary gap in the European Union. It should be noted, however, that Germany’s men’s salaries are some of the highest in the Europe. They not only widen the wage gap, but are another factor supporting the decision of many married women to stay at home after having children or to not pursue employment at all.

Tips for climbing the corporate ladder despite it all…

Though all of this may seem intimidating...

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Internet addresses that could be of interest to women: (mostly in German)

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