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Germany

Equal Pay Day highlights growing wage gap between women and men

Equal Pay Day marks how far into the New Year the average woman works to earn the same amount as her male counterpart did the year before. This year in Germany she had to work 85 more days, a number that's on the rise.

A woman working at a plant manufacturing of hydraulic jacks

The gender wage gap is growing in Germany

Germany is lagging far behind when it comes to achieving equality for working women. Women earn on average about 23 percent less than their male colleagues. That's higher than the European average of 18 percent, and places Germany fourth to last in the European Union.

Equal Pay Day is always how many days into the year a woman has to work to earn the same amount as her male colleague in the year before. It took place on March 26 this year in Germany. That means German women had to work on average 85 days more than German men to earn the same amount, an increase of six days compared to the year before.

A woman with a child on her lap working at a laptop

A shortage of childcare in Germany can make it difficult for mothers to work full time.

Activists fighting to improve the situation for working women say there are many reasons for the gender pay gap, including sexist attitudes, segregated economic sectors that give more value to men's work and a lack of childcare, making it difficult to combine motherhood with a career.

Barbara Klose-Hecht grew up in East Germany where childcare was provided by the state and women worked on a more equal footing with men. In contemporary Germany less than 10 percent of children aged 3 and under have access to childcare. Klose-Hecht said she first experienced discrimination in the workplace after German reunification. She had to find a new job and ended up working in the male-dominated field of construction.

"The problem is I had to do the same work as my male colleagues, but I did not have the same salary," Klose-Hecht, now the president of the Berlin office of the Network of Business and Professional Women in Germany, told Deutsche Welle. She added that women must be taught how to negotiate more aggressively to earn the salaries they deserve.

Change begins at home

According to Klose-Hecht, reducing the gender pay gap starts with attitudes and values in the home. She believes that prevailing gender roles continue to hurt women in Germany.

"In Sweden, for instance, where the gender gap is less than in Germany, women and men care together for the children and it is absolutely impossible to exceed working weeks of 60 hours or to have meetings in the evenings," she said. "It is a question of organization."

Sweden has measures like tax cuts for families, childcare services and incentives for fathers to take parental leave that help women in the workplace, said Klose-Hecht. Swedish women now make up 19 percent of executive board positions and almost 50 percent of board seats in state-owned companies.

Quotas a solution for some countries

One measure that has not caught on in Sweden but that other European countries do use is the quota system.

A mother and her child with a father and his child on the playground

Klose-Hecht: fathers want more time with their families too

The government needs to step in to change this culture of discrimination in German workplaces, argued Claudia Menne, head of gender equality and women's policy at the confederation of German trade unions. She said quotas are one way to do that. "A company isn't going to do this on a voluntary basis," she said. Norway, Spain and France all have quota legislation.

But some companies are prepared to use quotas, with Deutsche Telekom announcing last week a quota of 30 percent females for management positions.

A minimum wage for everybody, something Germany does not have, could also help the situation, according to Kerstin Drobick, the equal opportunity representative for the Berlin-Mitte district, boosting wages for some of the lowest paid jobs.

Many of the causes behind the wage gap are harmful for men too, said Klose-Hecht. Klose-Hecht said that bosses are often unsympathetic to fathers who want to take time off, with an attitude of: "What do you want? You have a woman to look after the children."

"Most of the fathers complain that they don't have enough time for their children because of the fact that the enterprise expects them to have this 60-hour working week," she said. "Most of them don't want it. They want to spend more time with their family."

Author: Cinnamon Nippard / hf
Editor: Ben Knight

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