Germany Has a (Lack of) Female Executives Problem

From Katrin Bennhold at The New York Times

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In economic terms, Germany has been the most successful large country in Europe since the Great Recession, and it has been ably led by Angela Merkel for the last twelve years. That may lead a person to believe the country has a progressive view on women in the workplace, but Merkel is the exception.

There are, in fact, more C.E.O.s named “Thomas” (seven) than C.E.O.s who are women (three) in Germany’s 160 publicly traded companies, notes the AllBright foundation, which tracks women in corporate leadership. Ninety-three percent of all executive board members in these companies are men. Nearly three out of four of the corporations have no women on their executive teams.

There is actually a term for working women in Germany that are aiming to be high achievers: “raven mothers,” as if they are pushing their children out of the nest so they can get back to work.

“If you stay at home and have children, you’re not contributing to society,” Ms. Huber-Strasser said. “If you work and have children, you are a raven mother. If you work and have no children, you’re a cold woman. All paths for women in Germany are difficult.

Another amazing historical fact: East Germany was ahead of the curve compared to West Germany when it came to encouraging women to work.

The West revived the 19th century maxim of Kinder, Küche, Kirche — children, kitchen, church, while in the East, the Communists set up free day-care centers.

Eastern mothers drove cranes and studied physics. Until 1977, western wives officially needed their husbands’ permission to work. By then, their peers in the East had a year of paid maternity leave and shorter work hours if they nursed.

When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, female employment in the East was near 90 percent; in the West it was 55 percent. Today, over 70 percent of German women work. But only 12 percent of those with children under 3 work full time.

Not surprising: Angela Merkel grew up in East Germany.

There have been some law changes to be more accommodating to working women such as extending child care to children under 3 years old. Corporate boards of large companies are also being forced to add women in place of any exiting board members until they represent 30% of the committee.

While that shows improvement for large companies, mid-size firms remain far behind.

Among the publicly traded businesses in Germany’s internationally revered Mittelstand, the midsize companies that are the backbone of Germany’s well-oiled export machine, fewer than 4 percent of executive jobs are held by women.